Dinosaur Hunt Snack Mix

I’ve been hosting lots of backyard dinosaur hunts that require dinosaur hunt snacks. For the next one, I’m serving gluten-free snack mix. I’ll also have a make-your-own s’mores station.

If your grandkids are like mine, they LOVE dinosaurs. Not only that, they can pronounce all of those impossible dinosaur names: Diplodocus, Parasaurolophus, Ankylosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus. How do they do that?

In this era of distanced visits, a dinosaur hunt can be a fun way to get together and keep connection. Some grandkids like to know there will be constant feature they can count on, but there also needs a bit of novelty to keep them interested. This week, I’m changing up the food to include snack bags filled with cereal mix.

Like sausage balls, I’ve tended to only make this during the holidays. Recently, I was playing with recipes for college students and ended up with a microwave version that’s really good! It has salt, crunch, and takes only 10 minutes to make. Now I’m going to have to force myself not to make it all of the time.

Here’s the recipe:

1/4 cup butter
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
2 cups Rice Chex™ cereal
2 cups Corn Chex™ cereal
1 cup Kix® cereal
1 cup gluten-free pretzels
1 cup mixed nuts (optional)

In large microwave-safe bowl, place butter, Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder. Heat in microwave on high for 1 minute. If butter is fully melted, stir ingredients together until fully mixed. If butter is not melted, microwave in 30-second increments until it is.

Once spices and butter are mixed, add Rice Chex and Corn Chex. Mix making sure to spoon plenty of the spiced butter up from the bottom of the bowl. Add Kix and pretzels and mix again. Return bowl to microwave and cook on high for 6 minutes. Stop the microwave every two minutes and stir the mixture. Allow to cool.

When I’m making this for little ones, I leave out the nuts. Also, word to the wise, don’t be tempted to go for a can of fancy nuts. I did that last Christmas and I was not happy. I missed the peanuts!

I know I’m not the only one trying to navigate distanced visits. You don’t have to do a backyard dinosaur hunt to get together, but carrying some snack bags filled with a homemade treat along on any adventure is a great way to remind the family of memories you share.

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/beasts-feather/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Watching Football Makes Us Hungry for Tailgate Food!

Watching football makes us hungry for tailgate food even though we’re at home! As the teams settle into conference play, we can easily spend a whole day in front of the TV. No one wants to cook, but we all want to eat. Taking the tailgate approach not only makes us feel more like we’re at the game in person, it means we have food ready so that all we have to do is watch and yell…a lot!
football
When we actually tailgate, we coordinate with our friends to decide who will bring what and then we do the prep in advance. This approach works well when friends or family gather in front of a big screen. Instead of the burden falling on whoever has the biggest screen, food prep can be treated the same way it would be if you were meeting at your favorite tailgate spot.

Sometimes, we ask that the contributions follow a certain theme. Other times, it’s a free for all. Next week, the theme is peanuts. Don’t worry. There are no peanut allergies within the circle of invitees.

This theme is a throwback to Sunday nights from my childhood. My parents had a group of friends who met after church every Sunday for snacks and conversation. At some point, multiple people brought desserts containing peanut butter for several weeks in a row. From then on, the group was known as the Peanut Butter Club.

As host, I like to provide a substantial central dish. To keep with the peanut theme, I’m considering chicken satay with peanut sauce or African peanut soup. I like the idea of chicken on a skewer, but I also like the idea of a soup I can cook in and serve from a slow cooker.

We’ll want to include some lighter foods. A Thai chopped salad filled with veggies and topped with a peanut drizzle fills the bill. This can be easily served build-your-own style. A fruit tray with peanut butter dip is also a great choice.

This theme makes it easy for those who don’t want to cook. Mixed nuts, trail mix, Reese’s Pieces, or peanut butter cups can all be grabbed on the way to a party. Peanut butter stuffed pretzels are also relatively easy to find. Jif® offers Chocolate Poppers-a bag filled with peanut butter-coated popcorn and chocolate flavored covered pretzels-for a crunchy, sweet variation.
cookies
Classic peanut butter cookies can be an easy gluten-free dessert. Our Cooking2Thrive recipe adds some jelly to become PB & J cookies. Here’s the recipe:
Cooking2Thrive PB&J Cookies
About 25 cookies

Ingredients
Baking parchment
1 cup sugar
1 cup natural crunchy peanut butter (peanuts & salt)
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 1/2 tbsp Concord grape jelly + 2 tbsp additional for topping
Water

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350º. Line cookie sheet with baking parchment.

In medium bowl, combine sugar, peanut butter, salt, and egg. Mix well, then stir in 1 1/2 tbsp jelly. Form dough into small balls approximately 1 inch in diameter. Place balls on cookie sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart.

Put water in a small cup. Dip a fork in the water and use it to press each ball flat, then press each ball with the fork a second time at a 90º angle to the first pressing.

Bake in 350º for 10-12 minutes. Remove parchment to cooling rack and cool for 5 minutes, then remove cookies from parchment directly onto rack. Once completely cool, top each cookie with 1/4 tsp grape jelly.

While I know we’ll enjoy this peanut theme, we’re not the Peanut Butter Tailgate Club. We like variety too much. The rest of the season may include burgers and brats, mac & cheese, pulled pork with vinegar coleslaw, nachos & cheese dip or enchiladas and guacamole. Whatever the theme, the food will be delicious.

Watching football makes us hungry for tailgate food, but the real focus this fall is on the game itself! Roll Tide, go Hogs, Tigers x 3, Gamecocks, Volunteers, Rebels, Bulldogs x 2, Wildcats, Commodores, Aggies, and Gators! Yes, I favor the SEC. I can’t help it. Those roots go deeper than the Peanut Butter Club!
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Braise then Graze

This year, I’ve been known to braise then graze. Most often, I bake fish; broil or bake beef and pork; and bake or boil chicken, but my favorite preparation may be to braise! Earlier this year, I braised some steak I dredged in gluten-free flour and cooked with a flavorful broth. The result inadvertently mimicked my grandmother’s beef and noodles. In fact, my sister, who thought this was a deliberate replication said, “You nailed it! You can fix this for my birthday,” when she sampled the dish. I confessed it was a happy accident.

One of the benefits of braising is the tenderness of the meat when it’s done. My grandmother used a pressure cooker to achieve this effect. Pressure cookers scare me. I always visualize food on the ceiling that has spewed through the valve at the top. I think I’ll stick with braising.
ribs
The other day, I had some country style pork ribs on hand and lots of rain outside. I wasn’t willing to fight the elements to use the grill so I decided to braise the ribs. I can’t say this was a well-thought plan. It is more aptly described as a few decisions based on convenience. I threw some balsamic vinegar, tamari, and a splash of olive oil in an enameled cast iron pot and added a little sugar. The mixture tasted pleasantly salty with a subtle tang.

I placed the pot over medium heat and allowed it to come to a boil while I stirred until the sugar melted. I then placed each rib, unseasoned, into the liquid and immediately turned it so that both sides were coated. Once all of the ribs were in place, I added a large stem of fresh mint leaves for an aromatic top note.

As I began the braising, I had the thought that the flavor profile would have been a good choice for lamb. I wasn’t sure how it would play with pork, but I always throw things together and hope for the best. Usually, it works out.

Braising can be done in the oven or on top of the stove. I used the top of the stove. The idea is to keep the heat low and cook for a long time. I placed the covered pot over a very low flame and set the timer for an hour. Once the hour had passed, I turned the ribs again, sprinkled in a little cayenne, mignonette pepper, and garlic powder for good measure, gave it a stir and continued to cook for another hour.

The results fall off the bone as expected with this cooking technique. The color is dark, almost black, and the flavor rich. There’s plenty of salt from the tamari. There’s no noticeable sweetness, but the sugar has helped create the illusion of caramelization that makes the burned edges of barbecue so appealing.

The flavor is not wholly familiar. It’s lacking any mustard or tomato base that would be typically associated with country style ribs. And of course there’s no smokiness. Nonetheless, the ribs are satisfying and delicious.

I’ll make these ribs again to nail down the actual measurements for a recipe, then we’ll test that recipe a few times to make any needed changes before it is approved for publication. All Cooking2Thrive original recipes are tested a minimum of three times. Some are tested many more.

Once the recipe is perfected, all you’ll have to do is follow the instructions to braise then graze!
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New Life for Leftovers

This week is a good time to create a new life for leftovers. In general I don’t mind leftovers, but I have my limits. Once I’m tired of eating a particular holiday menu item, I like to repurpose it to make it palatable again. If I don’t, I’ll be tempted to throw away perfectly good food.

Leftover plans have to be flexible because I never know exactly what will be eaten, what will be taken home by my family, and what will stay in my refrigerator. When incorporating leftovers into other dishes, I just work from a general framework and make things up as I go.

Turkey quickly becomes a turkey/avocado/bacon wrap using gluten-free tortillas or paleo wraps. Sometimes I go full turkey club by adding tomato, lettuce, and cheese to the wrap.

If you have leftover turkey and gravy, it’s easy to make creamed turkey on toast. It’s the same idea as chipped beef on toast and has that same retro feel of grandma’s kitchen.
corn
This year I ended up with lots of corn. I’m going to use it in Mexican cornbread, but I could make corn/potato chowder or corn casserole. I could also include it along with other veggies in a frittata. Frittatas are always an easy, delicious, gluten-free way to repurpose cooked vegetables.

If you have too much stuffing, consider turning it into a bottom crust for shepherd’s pie. If you have them, the filling can be made with leftover turkey, vegetables, and gravy. If you don’t, create a filling using breakfast sausage, green peas, and a little sour cream. Top off either version with mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes before baking.

Winter weather often accompanies the holidays making warm, cozy soup an appealing option. Mashed potatoes and gravy can become the base for a thick, creamy soup. Corn and green beans can be incorporated into vegetable soup.

Fresh cranberry/orange relish makes the perfect topping for an almond torte. We always have extra relish. We all love it, but it’s not something you want to eat in large servings and it’s such a strong, tart flavor that it doesn’t always pair well with other strong flavors. On the other hand, its strong flavor enhances the mild flavor of the torte.

Last year, I used a leftover sweet potato to create a topping for panna cotta. It was so good everyone asked for it again this year! Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it:

Sweet Potato Topping

1/2 cup cooked sweet potato
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 tbsp salted butter
1 tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp honey
Pinch of salt

Place sweet potato and maple syrup in food chopper or blender and purée until smooth. In medium skillet, melt butter. Add puréed sweet potato. Whisk in cream and honey and sprinkle with salt. Cook for a minute or two. Allow to cool.

I’m not sure why I thought to turn that sweet potato into topping, but I’m glad I did. That’s the great thing about creating new life for leftovers; you can end up with unexpectedly good food that would never have been thought of otherwise.

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/lighten/