Toddler-Friendly A-Frame Graham Cracker Cabins

We had a few friends over this weekend to make gingerbread houses and it was the most successful play date we’ve had to date. The girls were 2.5, 3.5, 4, and 7 and this activity was perfect for all of their attention spans. The houses wound up being graham cracker A-frames, rather than gingerbread (because the idea of baking enough pieces to make four houses was entirely not appealing), but we all loved how they turned out. Here’s what we used:

Houses: graham crackers and hot glue. Each girl got an ice cream cone tree to decorate (or eat, in Linden’s case). You will need about one package of graham crackers per house, though get extra since some will break as you work.

Icing: this recipe or this one (if you can find meringue powder). I made a double recipe, divided it by four, and put each portion into a quart-size zip top bag. We snipped off one corner and the girls each piped icing onto their house.

Toppings: pretzel sticks, Cherrios, banana chips, pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds, dried cranberries, natural marshmallows

I definitely recommend assembling the houses ahead of time and letting the kids focus on the decorating because that’s really the fun part. I choose natural toppings because I knew that they’d eat as they worked and I wanted to at least limit some of the sugar intake. The icing may have defeated that purpose, but in the end, the monotone palette of these turned out to be super sweet and modern!

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DIY Advent Calendar (and Advent Ideas for Toddlers)

We always had the paper advent calendars when I was growing up and I remember that every third day (since I alternated with my siblings), getting to open the little box was so exciting. And it was just a photo inside! I have been wanting to have a pocket calendar for Linden ever since she was born (because I’ve long since love this one) and this year I finally got around to making one.

I didn’t do anything fancy—I simply found fabric that I love and sewed on little strips, then used decorative stitching to make seams—and some of my edges might still be unfinished. But there are hits of metallic thread and the pockets are big enough for small treats. And it adds a bit of holiday fun in the dining room, which is nice to see everyday.

Here are a few things that I tucked inside:

a bag of beads for us to string into a necklace
box of raisins
a roll of washi tape (so far, her favorite!)
tiny dark chocolate bars
a little ruler (because she likes to use the ones at school to make straight lines)
little colored pencils
holiday socks
a stamp (so we can make her teachers holiday cards)
activities like going to the nutcracker, making cookies with mama, or going to the library

And the one in the bigger pocket for Christmas Day? Bunny treats! I figured she would enjoy her absolute favorite treat on the most special of holidays.

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Baked Cocoa Blueberry Doughnuts

I have been wanting a doughnut pan for ages, which is funny, considering that I haven’t had an actual doughnut in years. I think I’ve stereotyped them as far too sweet for my taste buds, but I assumed that I could make them at home with a flavor profile that was more to my liking. So when I had the chance to get myself an early holiday gift, I opted for this Wilton pan and made my first batch within 24 hours of it arriving on my doorstep.

This recipe was inspired by the one in the Weelicious Lunches cookbook. That recipe had raspberries and regular flour; this one has blueberries and is gluten free. I’ve also added cocoa powder—I have a bag of this kind and wow, the flavor is so good—for a bit more depth and reduced the sugar by more than half. The pan made 6 doughnuts , though you only see 5 in these images because I ate the missing one warm out of the oven this afternoon with a small glass of milk. Miss Linden ate most of one for dessert tonight and declared, “I like it!”. (Which came after she had spit out the squash risotto I had made after taking a small bite…).

I plan to make another batch of these after holding the batter in the fridge overnight—because it’d be so great to have these warm for breakfast, without having to measure ingredients with bleary eyes. And I might even purchase a mini doughnut pan since that size would be better for kiddos. I’ll let you know how each of those ideas turns out.

In the meantime, I’m content to warm up one of the leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.

Baked Cocoa Blueberry Donuts
Makes 6 full size donuts

1 1/4 cup gluten free flour blend* or whole wheat pastry flour (omit chia seeds if using regular flour and skip the resting time called for in Step 1.)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 T cocoa powder
2 T butter, melted
2 T brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole milk
1 t vanilla
1 T chia seeds
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1. Mix all ingredients except the blueberries together in a medium bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes. Stir in blueberries.
2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a regular size doughnut pan. Spoon batter into a quart zip top bag, remove as much air as possible, and close. Snip one corner and pipe batter into doughnut pan, filling each almost full. Bake for 12 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Serve warm soon after baking if possible.

Variations:
Use blackberries or raspberries instead of blueberries.
Skip the berries and add chocolate chips.
Drizzle with melted chocolate or dust with powdered sugar.

*I have a gluten free flour mix that’s 200 grams almond flour, 200 grams buckwheat flour, 350 grams rice flour, and 350 grams arrowroot starch. I use it for pancakes, muffins, and now, these donuts. It’s hearty and flavorful and really filling. You can try this recipe with a store bought GF flour mix or use regular flour (see note in the ingredient list).

 

 

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Iced Pumpkin Cookies with Cranberries and Chocolate

With the first snowfall of the season a few days ago, it’s really starting to feel like the holidays are here. I’ve started sewing an advent calendar, making gift lists, and stocking the freezer with food for a few social events coming up next month. And since it’s not the holidays without baked goods, I tried out a new recipe for pumpkin cookies that I wanted to share with you. These are cakey and moist, yet are very easy to whip up. They are just as good plain as they are frosted, and make for a crowd-pleasing dessert option either way.

Check out the recipe for Iced Pumpkin Cookies with Cranberries and Chocolate Chips here!

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Maple Cornmeal Muffins

I’ve had a goal to make a gluten free corn muffin that’s as good as those made with regular flours for a while now. Of all of the breads that I bake, corn muffins (and cornbread) is what I want the most during the chillier months. So after a bit of experimentation, I think I hit that mark with this recipe.

We love corn muffins alongside soup, stews, and chili—or warmed with eggs in the morning or on their own as a snack. I particularly love this recipe because (in addition to being delicious) each muffin is filled with protein and complex carbs, so they are more nutritious than the standard white flour variety. Plus, these muffins are moist and just a little bit sweet, with the pleasing texture that you’d expect from a corn muffin. You can make them sweeter with an extra drizzle of honey on top (and a smear of butter wouldn’t hurt either!), or spread with your favorite nut butter.

Maple Cornmeal Muffins
Makes 12 large muffins

2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 t salt
3 t baking powder
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup melted butter, slightly cooled
4 eggs
2 T-1/4 cup maple syrup (depending on your preference)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease a standard muffin tin.
2. Combine the cornmeal, almond flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Whisk the applesauce, yogurt, butter, eggs, and maple syrup in a separate bowl. Gently stir the wet ingredients in the dry until combined.
3. Portion into muffin cups, filling almost to the rim, and bake for 25-27 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 2 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled, as you like.

Variations:
Use canola or coconut oil in place of the butter.
Try honey instead of maple syrup.
Add in 1/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries.

*Have little ones around? Try this recipe in a mini muffin tin. Just cut the baking time down to 16-18 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

 

 

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Sweet Baked Apples

I recently made Sweet Baked Apples for recipe.com and it was such a good way to use some of the apples that we picked at a local orchard. The apples were fairly small, so they cooked quickly, and they made for a pretty delicious dessert—and breakfast, alongside thick plain yogurt, the next morning. My girl may have picked out all of the raisins before going near any of the apple, but it was still a great opportunity to talk about the memories of our orchard adventure. And fruit is fruit, right?

Get the recipe here.

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Chocolate Chip Banana Snack Cake (and Some Links)

At some point recently, I promised Linden that we’d make a cake together. At almost two and a half, she’s got a better memory than me most days and she’s always bringing up small moments from months ago—so she of course didn’t forget about the promise. I’m sure I said it quickly in passing, while trying to convince her to put her socks on, or to come inside from playing, but whatever the original context, I’m so glad that I did.

We whipped together a one-bowl banana cake that couldn’t have been easier. She, with her apron on and spatula at the ready, helped me to stir the ingredients together and to mash the bananas. She tasted a few chocolate chips as we added them in and shook in just enough cinnamon. The cake came together quickly in a matter of minutes, so she remained interested in the process the whole time.

It cooled while she napped and when she woke up, she helped me use the electric mixer to whip together the cream cheese frosting. And once I put the frosting in a mound on the cake, she helped to carefully spread it out. We ate it together in the dining room for our afternoon snack and it was very nearly a perfect motherhood moment: We had fun, made something together, we got to share something delicious, and—most importantly—no one got upset or had a tantrum.

I hope the cake is equally as enjoyable in your house.

Chocolate Chip Banana Snack Cake
adapted from Flourless

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup coconut or canola oil
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9-inch cake pan.
2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, stirring to combine. Pour into cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.
3. Let cream cheese (full fat versions are best here) soften a bit room temperature*, then mix together with sour cream and honey with an electric hand mixer. Cover the top of the cake and serve. Store in the fridge.

*We were impatient with our cream cheese, so it was a little hard and thus a little lumpy. Still delicious though!

And now for a little link sharing of some recent work!

I’ve done two stories for the new Yahoo Parenting, including 5 Healthy Foods Your Toddler Will Eat and The Truth About Nightime Potty Training. The first one includes a few of our go-to recipes; the second explains why I’ve been so tired since August.

These Twice-Baked Pesto Potatoes are seriously delicious and were great warmed up the day after.

Looking for a classic Chocolate Chip Cookie? Try this one.

We love grits and we adore bacon, so when they came together in this Make-Ahead Bacon and Grits Pie, we were all happy.

Sausage Meatballs, need I say more? (Really, these are incredibly good.)

And finally, we had a huge potato harvest this year, and these Crispy Smashed Potatoes are one of our favorite ways to eat some of them.

 

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

Continuing my obsession with the Flourless cookbook, I did a variation of the Banana-Cocoa Muffins this morning. Since it’s Friday and I actually slept past 6—a big feat given what an early riser I have—I thought it was a good day for a morning treat. I added peanut butter to the original recipe for a bit more protein, cut the amount of sweetener in half, used butter instead of oil, and used almond flour instead of ground hazelnuts. They needed to bake a bit longer than the recipe mentioned and I only got 10 muffins from my batch, but otherwise, these were delicious. These are definitely going into regular rotation—and I am betting that I will frost them one day soon and serve them up as cupcakes!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Muffins
Adapted from Flourless
Makes 10 muffins

2 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup melted butter, slightly cooled
1/2 cup almond meal or almond flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a muffin tin.
2. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well combined and the batter is smooth. Fill 10 muffin cups about 2/3 full. Bake for 30-32 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then cool on a rack.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Bread

I’ve been trying out a lot of gluten-free recipes lately and I’ve found a few that are definitely keepers. The first is this recipe for Flourless Banana Muffins, that when I made them for the first time, my family of three ate half of the batch of 12 in one sitting. They are pretty amazing. (I skipped the sugar and the chocolate since my girl has plenty of energy all on her own first thing in the morning, but do what you will.)

The second recipe is the one you see here, which is a variation on this Gluten-Free Pumpkin Bread. I did the coconut flour variation with almond butter and used roasted and pureed butternut squash since that seems to be much more plentiful at our farmers market than baking pumpkins. I also used 1/4 cup honey instead of the maple syrup that was called for since that’s what I had on hand. I figured that since I’ve swapped in squash for pumpkin in pie, then doing so in bread would work just as well.

I’m pretty amazed that this loaf baked up with such a nice shape and that it holds together when sliced. I haven’t been on a strict gluten-free diet since before my daughter was born and I’m delighted to find that the recipes have improved even since then!

 

 

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Chocolate Chip Brownie Cookies

I have sometimes been known to complicate matters when it comes to food, but after almost 2 and a half years of being a mama, I’m learning that often, the simpler the better. And such is the case with these crazy easy cookies. Without the need of an electric mixer or any other special equipment, these chocolatey cookies come together in one bowl (okay, two since you need one to melt the butter). You can make the batter ahead of time and stick it into the fridge until you are ready to bake and they even taste great when not super fresh.

Basically, they are the best of both a brownie and a cookie and when I recently made a batch for a party, all but one cookie was gone before dinner had even started. That to me is a total success. (I was relieved that the kids who ate them all spent the party running around playing soccer and jumping rope, which made me pretty sure that they weren’t still hopped up on sugar when they got home that night!) And since almost every dinner or party that we’re invited to is a potluck, I’m considering these my go-to for all events until further notice.

Click on over to recipe.com for the full recipe!

 

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