Sour Cherries Offer A Sweet Dessert

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I recently made this fantastic Sour Cherry Crisp. At least I think it is fantastic, considering I didn’t eat it. No, no, not because I lack a sweet tooth (by now we all know that is a complete and total falsehood), but because I am gluten-free and was out of almond flour and was therefore very SAD. Sad, I tell you.

But every single person in my house devoured it, so I have proof that it was delicious.

The great thing about this recipe is that it’s simple; all of the ingredients (besides the cherries) are in most kitchens. The other great thing about this recipe is that I actually have a cherry tree in my backyard, so I sent my four little minis out to pick lots and lots of cherries. This kept them busy for hours. Then how SAD was I? Not sad at all, I tell you.

Once the cherries were picked, we washed them and then pitted them, which offers a lot of opportunities for smashing, smushing, and comparing cherries to various body parts. The boys took the lead on this, because in this one instance, boys are better than girls.

Fresh Sour Cherry Crisp

Serves: 10

Prep Time: Depends on if you, too, have a cherry tree in your backyard and in-home child labor – if cherries are store bought, approximately 20 minutes

Bake Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 4 cups pitted sour cherries
  • 5 cups white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (if you are gluten-free like I am, and smart enough to have almond-flour in your pantry, not like I am, feel free to use it!)
  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • In a large bowl combine cherries, white sugar and 4 tablespoons of flour
  • Pour into a 9X13 greased baking dish
  • In a medium bowl (let’s be honest here, folks, I used the same bowl – less dishes) combine 1.5 cups of all-purpose flour, oats and brown sugar
  • Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly and sprinkle over cherries
  • Bake in preheated oven until for 45 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbly
  • Serve with vanilla ice cream or greek yogurt

 Submitted by Stephanie Blackford

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No Bake Fourth of July Desserts – Let Freedom (From the Kitchen) Ring!

As you may know, I am a fan of desserts. Like, if I were a teenager, I would have posters of cakes on my wall. It’s that bad.

But I am also a fan of feeding my crew healthy, non-food dyed, non-creepy-chemical eats. And that core belief is part of the Epicurean Group Bill of Rights created by our forefather. Real food for real people. God Bless America.

There are several holiday desserts that fit the – um – bill. Or at least almost fit the bill, with a  little modification. And these treats are simple enough to do quickly, don’t require an oven, and won’t cause that post-dessert guilt. I spend my life feeling guilty about the desserts. But those who can not do, teach. Here we go:

Love this portable dessert!

Directions:

  • Puree strawberries in a  blender with a little bit of agave
  • Place strawberries, organic vanilla or lemon yogurt, and blueberries in a mason jar or drinking glass
  • Chill
  • Serve

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If you want to steer clear of the fake stuff, use 100% real chocolate, organic pretzel rods, and  an all-natural food dye to create red, white, and blue pretzel sticks – and skip the sprinkles (they are a mess anyway).Warm chocolate on the stove, dip pretzel rods, and place rods on wax paper in the refrigerator for an hour.

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Alternate bananas, strawberries and blueberries to create this edible flag! This is a great project for little tykes – keeps them busy for a good 8 minutes!

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These are made with Rice Krispie treats, but you can swap out pineapple for the stars – making this a great breakfast, snack or dessert.

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You Ate What?

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I have a confession: I like my in-laws. I know, it’s soooo not the cool thing to do. In-law issues keep advice columnists and wine shops in business. But mine are energetic, kind, patient, funny people who love my children unconditionally, striving only to make my gaggle of four happy.

Sound too good to be true?

Well….

As dictated by the laws of grandparenting, my in-laws enjoy providing my tykes with what they call treats. Treats come in the form of sleepovers and movie marathons and board games and ice cream cones and that’s all fine and dandy. I can even sort of look past the gumball machine in their basement that spits out jelly beans for free.

Then, last week, they picked up three out of the four from school (the littlest was already with them) and – as usual – my kiddos expected a treat. Into McDonald’s they went for what? Oh – well –let me just tell you. Two double cheeseburgers, fries, “one of those new green smoothies” (according to Caroline, talking about the get-em-while-they-last Shamrock Shakes) and forty Chicken McNuggets. Yes. You read that right. Four-Zero. 40. Forty.

Um, what?

As many of you know, I do have a sugar addiction that I am working through with some self-help books and a package of Girl Scout cookies, but in general I am pretty particular about the food and drink in my house. That’s why I love working and writing for Epicurean. They whip up the most delectable dishes but never fall back on the fake stuff. It’s good food that just tastes way, way better than when I make it.

My in-laws internally roll their eyes at my endeavors to keep my kids and my kitchen healthy. My father-in-law is not a fan, refusing to eat turkey burgers or sunflower butter. But, the food at our house is usually organic and real (and expensive – but I will save that for another blog). Sodas are scarce, as are Doritos, (mostly because GOD what a mess, and don’t get me started on the breath) juice boxes filled with high-fructose corn syrup and any cereal with a tiger or a captain on the front.

So when I heard that my kids had inhaled a week’s worth of fat and sugar in one sitting not because they were hungry, but because they had their grandparents wrapped around their little fingers, I was a little sick. And angry. Not angry at my in-laws, but at my children. They know better! It was as if they saw their chance and took it thinking: How many Chicken McNuggets will it take before I either vomit or someone makes me stop? Let’s just see….

But if you can’t beat them, join them, right? The treats aren’t going away. Nor should they. My own mother spoils my children just as much, but with excessive amounts of  shoes. And then dresses. And then some hair bows. And books. And pajamas. This is because she never eats, so feeding them junk wouldn’t even occur to her, as she’s too busy organizing (and re-organizing) their closets. And mine (and the neighbor’s.) We all have our issues.

This got me thinking: What is the best worst thing you can eat? Well, first let’s talk about the five WORST things to eat: donuts, soda, French fries, potato chips and processed meat top the list. No surprise there. And while we all know that choosing a salad at the drive-thru is a much better choice than, say, anything with the word ‘deluxe’ in the title, it’s probably not going to fly as a ‘treat.’ Nor is the baked potato at Wendy’s or the Subway sandwich. Let’s get serious:

The Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s has a whopping 530 calories, 15 grams of fat and 86 (yep) grams of carbs.

The McDonald’s Fruit N’ Yogurt Parfait weighs in at 150 calories, 2 grams of fat and 30 grams of carbs. Not so bad when you want to be bad, but not too bad.

The Wendy’s Jr. Frosty Original? 200 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 32 grams of carbs. Doable, not deathly.

TCBY Yogurt, due to the variety, lists nutritional value for all their concoctions separately, but 4oz of the chocolate flavor is 110 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 23 grams of carbs. Reasonable, yes, just watch out for those toppings (damn you toppings!).

After finding this information, I was feeling slightly less sick and a little more hopeful. Then I boldly checked on Burger King’s chocolate chip cookies, which was a mistake. At 440 calories and a staggering 16 grams of fat, I can only think “what a waste!” I’d rather have four frozen yogurts for that, plus I have the aforementioned Girl Scout Cookies to resist at home.

The good news is that this is America and we have choices. The bad news is that this is America and we might have too many choices. I’d rather see my children eating an ice cream cone from a local confectionary than watch them eat a handful of Skittles. When it comes to real versus fake real always wins, except in beauty contests and reality shows. At least ice cream comes from milk and sugar instead of wherever Skittles come from (where do they come from?)

At the end of the day, I am all for a treat – within reason. Forty Chicken McNuggets is not reasonable. Nor is the Shamrock Shake and double cheeseburger that accompanied them. Cold treats, like the yogurt sundaes and mini Frosty seem the smartest, least frightening of the bunch. The author of Eat This, Not That is a quasi-genius, helping the average Joe swap out an unhealthy choice for something less scary. Take a look at his list here, and in the meantime, forget about that Shamrock Shake – it will be back next year. I promise.

You’re HOW Old?

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I hate to admit when my mother is right. Then again, don’t we all hate to admit when our mothers are right? The thing is, my mother is rarely wrong, except for that time she sent me to school with the flu. And then I fainted. Outside the science lab. And the nuns had to carry me to the office while all the other 7th graders watched. I remind her of this on a regular basis just to make sure she doesn’t get all high and mighty on me. But in terms of other things, she is usually right. Mistakes I have made, like throwing a brunch at my house the day after my wedding, wearing blue eyeliner, and watching the movie Poltergeist when I was eleven, could have been avoided had I listened to my mother.

Still, she’s not perfect. My sister and I spent the better part of our late teens inspecting the food in my mother’s refrigerator. Returning from college was, for us, a death-defying act of sheer bravery and courage. Yogurt that had been in the fridge since fall break was still tucked snugly next to questionable eggs and some sort of casserole that was, in her words, “delicious.” My grandfather once took a bite of pie and said, “Kath, I think this crust is rancid, but the filling is really good!” I dug out the box of Pillsbury and it was stamped ‘Use by the Nixon Administration.’ Her response? “See, that’s why I like to make my own crusts.” Okay then.

I will not even discuss the black bananas and I have worked extensively with a therapist to deal with the Lean Cuisine Chicken Chow Mein that was in the freezer for NINE years. The only reason it was finally discarded was because our house actually burned to the ground and my mother was forced to get a new refrigerator. She considered keeping the Lean Cuisine. I am not kidding.

You see, my mother didn’t believe in expiration dates. I mean – at all. “That lasagna is fine; you girls are being ridiculous,” was common. And I know, in my heart of hearts, that someday my mother will be old and gray and after not hearing from her for a few days, I will be forced to call a neighbor to check on her. They will find her on the kitchen floor with a carton of old cottage cheese in her hand. Sad. But not surprising.

So imagine my dismay when I heard that the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a study aptly named “The Dating Game,” claimed that ‘sell by’ or ‘use by’ dates don’t really mean anything! Apparently consumers take the dates seriously and, seeing an expired date and fearing that the food is unsafe, they throw it out, wasting perfectly good food and money. According to the stats, a family of four wastes up to $450 per year on food discarded purely based on the expiration date. How does that add up overall? Well, it means 40% of our food supply, approximately $160 billion dollars worth of perfectly good food, is being tossed out every year. Considering the appalling fact that many people in the world are actually starving, $160 billion is more than a little unappetizing.

A recent 9News investigative report on this topic unearthed expired food in each and every grocery store across the Denver metro area. Apparently a lack of manpower is resulting in many products being
pushed to the back of the shelves instead of putting fresher items towards the back and pulling more current items towards the front. I knew I was safe; my childhood experiences created my personal monster and while others are checking for fat content and high fructose corn syrup, I am looking at the date stamp on each item I purchase. But after reading about the Harvard study and learning from 9News that there is an area grocery store that purposely stocks out of date foods, I began to wonder if I was being smart or simply scared? Maybe I, too, was wasting decent food for fear of getting sick?

Turns out, I am both scared and smart. I learned that bacteria typically get involved when the food is processed and packaged, not when it is forgotten in your fridge. Food safety expert Ted Labuza, who teaches food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, in an interview with Yahoo Shine, suggests using your eyes and, more importantly, nose when determining the safety of your food. He believes the key to ensuring a longer shelf life is controlling the storage temperature and preventing exposure to moisture and oxygen.

Here are Lubuza’s tips for keeping food fresher, longer:

Meat. Labuza keeps his refrigerator at between 32 and 34 degrees, lower than the generally recommended 40 degrees. This gives meat a 50 percent longer shelf life, he says. Labuza points out that stores don’t scientifically determine the use-by date of fresh meat, but instead follow what their competitors are doing.

Milk. Pasteurized milk also lasts 50 percent longer when stored at a lower temperature.

Canned goods. The label generally gives a shelf life of about three years. If you keep cans in a cool place (not above the stove) they will last about seven years. Always discard dented cans. Jarred and bottled goods will also last longer than their best date if kept in a cool place.

Frozen food. “I never look at the dates, I just eat it,” says Labuza. Freezing kills all of the microbes that cause spoilage, although food will develop ice crystals (freezer burn) if there is an air space inside the packaging.

Dry goods such as crackers and corn chips. If they have a stale texture, crisp them up in a toaster oven. If they smell “barnyard-y” or rancid, the oils have spoiled and it’s best to discard.

Eggs. Place in a bowl of water. If an egg floats, it is bad, but if it sinks, it’s still edible (and unstinky), even if that expiration date passed by weeks ago.

Pasta. Keep pasta in clear packaging in a dark, cool place which will increase shelf life and also retain nutrients, including riboflavin, that are light sensitive.

Bread. Keeping bread and other wheat-flour based foods in the freezer dramatically extends shelf life.

Packaged greens. If your lettuce is wilted but not visibly decayed (aka slimy), you can revive it by soaking in ice water for about 10 minutes.

Prepared foods and processed meats. These can pick up pathogens while being produced. Prepared foods such as a deli sandwich or processed meats can harbor listeria that grows even when stored in the refrigerator. Use such foods quickly and never serve processed meats such as hot dogs or sausages (including those labeled pre-cooked) raw, especially to small children, the elderly, anyone who has a compromised immune system, or, most importantly, me. The good news: Cooking will kill surface bacteria.

Still, I’ll pass. No matter what my mother says.

It’s A Maneater!

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So, I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news. The good news: more men are grocery shopping. The bad news: more men are grocery shopping.

In a survey conducted by Midan Marketing LLC, a research group focused primarily on the meat industry, 47 percent of the 900 men studied were deemed – brace yourself – manfluencers.

I know, it’s pretty bad. I’ve called men by many, many, many a name, but manfluencer was never even under consideration. I do have several other names should you be at a loss. I even keep a list of my top 100 in the drawer with all the sharp knives.

How does this new manfluencer person impact the aisles at your favorite grocery store? For starters, marketing experts are reworking packaging to appeal to the male contingency. Yogurt containers are bolder, darker and highlight the amount of protein. Gone are girly phrases like “low-fat” and cartons with pastels dancing around the bottom. Yogurt is getting tough.

Now words like “pro” and “ultimate” are making their way on to store shelves. Kraft recently realized that their Velveeta Shells and Cheese, once marketed to busy mothers, was actually being gobbled up by twenty-something-aged males who are married but have not yet experienced the joys of fatherhood. These are the guys who have never attempted to cook for a family of six while someone is hanging on their leg and another is crying about the fact that Barbie is swimming in the toilet.

I admit that I do have a husband that often does a short grocery run. This mostly happens when he is craving a steak or is desperate to escape the insanity of a house full of short people. My children LOVE when their father shops because he comes home with “treats” like Oreo cookies, these creepy fruit snacks that are forbidden in my house and once – and only once – a box of Lucky Charms.  He has never come home with yogurt. Not even once.

So, how does this information help all you women out there? Well, if you have a husband that doesn’t shop, this might spur him on. But if you do have a husband who shops, be prepared and consider keeping a running grocery list somewhere visible. Apparently men find it much more fun to pay hard-earned money for “cold-brewed” coffee than to drink it out of the pot from this morning, where you left it after trying to save Barbie’s life.

No matter what the press says, we still love OJ

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No – not that OJ. Get your mind out of the gutter, people! That OJ is in jail right now, not for the reasons we may or may not think he should be in jail, but jail nonetheless.

We’re talking about orange juice. You know, the sweet, delicious nectar created by the gods of all things good in the world. Apparently the beloved orange juice, once a staple on breakfast tables across America, has had a nasty spill. A decade ago, over 835 gallons of the good stuff was sold each year ; only 563 gallons were purchased during this year’s  season. What’s got Americans turning sour on OJ?

Apparently the influx of sports drinks and specialty beverages are taking a bite out of the orange. With so many choices in the marketplace, it is easy to overlook something as passé as orange juice. Additionally, the cost of orange juice has soared, leaving consumers with a bitter taste in their collective mouths.

One expert said, “Orange juice could be seeing the twilight of its contract.” How sad! The word “twilight” sounds – um – final.

So, in an effort to show our love for OJ (no, not that OJ), we’re giving you a few of our favorite things to do with orange juice. Got better ideas? Share them with us!

  • Add orange juice to store-bought cake mix and let people think your concoction is homemade because it sort of is. Sort of.
  • Marinate pork or chicken in OJ; combine OJ with ginger for an Asian edge or add garlic and pepper for a more traditional flavor.
  • Blend vanilla yogurt and orange juice, pour into popsicle molds and surprise your little (or big) kids at breakfast. Smile when you hear them say, “Popsicles for breakfast?!! You’re the best mom EVER.”
  • Freeze orange juice in an ice-cube tray and add them to your cocktails – the cubes won’t water down the drink! You can also add orange juice cubes to punch and iced tea for added flavor.
  • Splash a generous amount of OJ on eggs before scrambling (a secret we learned from The Ritz-Carlton)
  • Add two tablespoons to any liquid cleanser (hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo) for more cleaning power and delicious smelling products.
  • Place a cup of orange juice in your empty dishwasher and run it; the orange juice will dissolve the gunk and grime found in the appliance.
  • Use a hot washcloth on your face to open pores and then rub an orange juice soaked cotton ball over your skin for a brighter complexion.

Whatever you do, don’t lock OJ away forever…what would the world be without mimosas on Sunday morning to counteract the screwdrivers from Saturday night? Our beloved OJ doesn’t deserve solitary confinement. Not this time, anyway.

Breakfast “Crunch”? – How to Ace the Morning Madness

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Apparently I missed the fact that the new school year starts in about three minutes. I am already feeling behind! What happened to summer? The pool is still OPEN for Pete’s sake; and I just bought fresh bottles of sunscreen! Remember when school started after Labor Day, when it wasn’t sweltering outside and you could sort of get your head around wearing something besides flip-flops and zinc oxide?

Well, friends, time marches on and I spend my insomnia-filled middle-of-the-night anxiety sessions trying to simplify, um, everything.  I am constantly on a quest to find the easiest, quickest, healthiest ways to feed my crew of four, myself, my husband, and the gaggle of neighborhood friends that pop in and out of our door. Planning ahead seems to be the best way to accomplish this goal and still stay sane. It also helps avoid a morning filled with heavy sighing and lots of eye-rolling (from me), and the mad dash to the bus sans tied shoes and brushed teeth (also from me).

This Coconut Macaroon Granola, recently highlighted by health guru and all-around smarty pants Kris Carr, is an ideal make-ahead dish. Double this recipe and keep the goods sealed in an airtight container; it makes a great on-the-go snack that you can eat with one hand while trying to answer an email or unload a dishwasher or dress a Barbie doll.

I use this granola as part of a mini breakfast buffet. I place all non-perishable items out on the table the night before school (granola, bowls, spoons, napkins, cups, the overdue library books, an unmatched sock, etc.) and then add milk, yogurt, cinnamon, whole fruit, and berries in the morning. Kids and adults can choose from an array of mixtures and toppings, but there is nothing on the table that isn’t full of good stuff to keep the body and mind (no matter what the age) going. Plus, I’ve seen my children empty an entire box of $4 cereal which makes me want to cry almost as much as a teacher in-service day.

Coconut Macaroon Granola (thank you Abra Pappa and Kris Carr!)

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 15 minutes | Serves: 10-12

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of organic oats
  • 1/4 cup of almond butter
  • 1/3 cup of agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup of organic slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup of coconut flakes, unsweetened
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seeds

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 300° F
  • Combine almond butter and organic oats in large mixing bowl. Mix until even.
  • Add organic agave nectar, almonds, coconut flakes and chia seeds. Mix until all ingredients are combined.
  • Evenly spread mixture on a cookie sheet and bake for 15.
  • Remove from oven, toss with spatula and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool.