Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lengthen Thanksgiving Dinner With These Ideas

I realize most of you are likely swamped with holiday cooking, baking, entertaining, etc. right now--too busy to read a blog for Pete's sake. But just in case there's anyone out there still in cyberspace, I need to talk. Am I the only mom/grandma that's annoyed with how  quickly this elaborate and laborious (albeit FUN laboriousness) meal is consumed? I spend most of the day getting it on the table and in 25 minutes or so, it's over! Snarf, snarf, wolf, wolf, gulp, gulp (burp, burp)--SEE ya! Off they go to watch football!

Not one to feel sorry for myself too long, I've been working on some ideas to thwart this Thanksgiving Dinner pattern. I've come up with some ideas for stretching the length of Thanksgiving Dinner by stretching the table talk, and thought I'd share them in the off chance some of you have the same complaint. Here are my thoughts:
  • We should serve salad first, just like it's done in a nice restaurant. When this course is finished, the rest of the meal is placed on the table and food is passed around the table family-style.
  • While enjoying the salad, we could start conversation with the traditional "What are you grateful for this year?", but with a twist that calls for a little more thought and specificity: "What is one thing you experienced this year that drew your attention to how blessed you are?" There are probably several versions of this question--the idea is to couch it so it sparks true conversation.
  •  Another conversation starter that would be fun is placing a Thanksgiving history quiz and pencil at each place-setting. While everyone is eating, the questions could be discussed and answered as a group. (Of course, you'd need to have the answers handy. Googling THANKSGIVING quiz will bring up some good choices.)

  • One mom I know got little blank books at her local dollar store, wrote the names of her dinner guests on them and placed one at each appropriate place setting. She called these books "Gratitude Journals." She encouraged everyone to write 5 things they're grateful for every evening before going to bed. She tells me this has become a nice tradition for their family, and now they all look forward to their new journal each year. She's also mentioned that she's noticed some great improvements in her teenagers' attitudes since starting this. 
I don't have a single idea on how to prevent the stampede to the TV for football watching. I guess there are some things in life we just live with. What's important is that those we love are gathered together--what a sweet thing to be thankful for. 

Although by the time most of you read this, our Thanksgiving Dinner will be over and cleaned up, these ideas would also work well for the next holiday dinner coming--Christmas--so let's keep this conversation going: Do YOU have ideas or thoughts on how to get folks to linger longer over the exquisite meals we're serving up? Please do share. We're all in this  together, remember. So until next time, here's to lengthening time spent eating our Thanksgiving feast, and of course, here's to making family dinner hour possible!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stretch the Food Budget--Turn Cottage Cheese Into Sour Cream!

How are things going for YOUR upcoming Thanksgiving dinner? I've had the challenge of needing to cut way back on spending, yet still trying to serve our traditional feast. Thinking I may not be alone in this pickle, I've devoted the last few posts to tasty and easy ways to stretch the food budget. Here's another doozy:

Part of our meal calls for sour cream. It's on sale for $1.50 for a one pound container, but since I need to stretch my food budget, I'm going to forgo buying it and put that $1.50 to another part of the meal instead. I can opt out of buying it because I have a container of cottage cheese in my fridge, so guess what? I can make my own sour cream!

Here's how to make your own tasty, healthy, and inexpensive sour cream:

2 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice (bottled or fresh, doesn't matter)
1 C creamed cottage cheese
Put ingredients in bowl and mix until smooth and creamy. Can be used in any recipe calling for sour cream. Yield: 1 cup. Recipe doubles nicely. 

I bet YOU have great budget-stretching ideas as well. Please do share with us--we're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to cleverly stretching that food budget, getting an amazing Thanksgiving meal on the table, and most especially, to making family dinner hour possible! 

Stretch the Food Budget--Make Your Own Crackers!

Don't you just love a good cracker? They’re so versatile and such a great snack. Here’s why I bring the subject up: I like to offer crackers and cheeses, etc. as a part of my appetizer spread for Thanksgiving dinner. But this year we’re on a tighter budget than usual due to my husband’s pending layoff (he’s an electrician and the job he’s been on is coming to a close), so there’s not as much money for this big meal. When you look at the typical Thanksgiving menu, it’s easy to see one thing we could do without is crackers (they are expensive for what you get). But hah hah! I remembered my Aunt Annie used to make her own and so I went looking for her recipe. I found it (hurrah—no giving up the appetizers and the budget survives)! 
As a food-budget-stretcher, you can save $2 or $3 by making your own crackers, leaving you extra $$ to put to other parts of your meal. But expense aside, homemade crackers are more delicious and healthier. Who needs all the chemicals and preservatives that store-bought crackers contain? And nothing beats the bragging rights you get when you tell your guests that you made these delectable morsels yourself. Also, what’s very cool about this is that it doesn’t take long to make a batch (prep time is about  15 minutes, on average), cook time is about 12 min., and you don’t need any razz-ma-tazz ingredients—they call for everyday staples.

Lastly, because they are sturdy and hearty, you can use them with dips, pates, fondues, cheese slices, or just on their own. These are so good, I’m thinking seriously of giving them as gifts to my neighbors for Christmas! Here is the basic recipe my Aunt Annie used back in the 1940’s that I feel really lucky to have, and until next time, here's to stretching the food budget and making family dinner hour possible!

HOMESTEAD CRACKERS (makes 3-4 dozen) 
2 Cups flour 
1 tsp. baking powder 
3/4 tsp. salt 
2/3 C warm water 
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil 
¼ C sesame seeds, toasted
Preheat oven to 400°. Grease two large cookie sheets. Combine all dry ingredients. Add water and oil. Mix until dough is smooth. Divide dough into two large balls and press each ball onto cookie sheet. Using fingers or rolling pin, spread dough as thin as possible. Score dough into even squares (with sharp knife or pizza cutter). Brush lightly with an egg wash (one egg white and 2 Tbsp water) or spray lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle top with toasted sesame seeds (and any other seeds you may have) and perhaps a little sea salt. Bake 10-12 min until crackers are golden and crispy. After baking and cooling, crackers will easy split apart if they haven’t pulled apart during backing. Store in airtight container. If they ever pick up moisture and lose their crispness, just pop them into a 250° oven for a few minutes.
Here’s a recipe I found that is also very good!

“SAY CHEESE!” CRACKERS (makes 5 dozen crackers)
1/3 C milk
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 ¼ C whole wheat flour
¼ tsp soda
½ C wheat germ
½ C butter
½ C sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I only had mild cheddar, and these were terrific anyway)
Combine milk and vinegar and set aside. In mixing bowl, knead rest of ingredients until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk mixture and mix only enough to combine. Turn out on a floured boards and knead briefly. Roll out ¼ “ thick, and cut in 2” pieces. Place on greased cookie sheets and prick crackers with a fork. Bake at 375° for about 15 min (watch closely—you only want them golden).

Stretch the Butter, Stretch the Food Budget

I'm a day late and a dollar short--unlike me, I'm guessing most of you have your Thanksgiving shopping done and your menu planned? But just in case there are a few out there (like me) that haven't been able to get to it yet, I want to pass on a little tip that can stretch the budget a smidge (and every little bit helps, right?):

You can find an extra dollar or two by stretching your butter--one pound of butter can be stretched to two pounds without any loss in flavor and a definite loss in calories, fat, and cholesterol. Here's how:
1) Let one pound of butter soften to room temperature.
2) Chill your hand mixer beaters and mixing bowl in the freezer.
3) Place softened butter in chilled bowl. Beat 'til creamy. SLOWLY add 1 1/2 to 2 C of ice water (a tablespoon at a time).

I've done this for years, so trust me. It works. You end up with almost 2 pounds of fluffy butter. You won't be able to use it in baking or cooking--it'll separate (fat from water). And in warm weather, it should be stored in the fridge. BUT, this is fantastic on toast, muffins, rolls, pancakes, etc. 

Now, consider this: Let's say the housebrand butter (Western Family for me) is on sale for $2.29 per pound. Instead of buying two pounds for my Thanksgiving dinner, I can now just buy one pound, and use the saved $2.29 for another part of the meal. Cool, huh? Try this and let me know what you think.

To conclude today's post on butter, how about some honey butter for those yummy rolls you'll be serving? The ratio is one part honey to one part butter. Just beat room temperature butter into your honey. You can jazz it up by adding a favorite flavoring such as vanilla, cinnamon, maple, etc. But of course, it's marvelous plain. I've done this with the "stretched" butter before and it works great. Do YOU have budget-stretching ideas for us? Please share--we're all in this together, remember! So until next time, here's to stretching the food budget by stretching the butter, and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Holiday Meals Made Easier

Putting a holiday meal together can really be stressful and energy-consuming. So I want to share some tips I've used over the years that've made this process much easier. (You'll notice too, that these ideas translate well to the overall goal of getting the family dinner on each night.)

Let's start with the obvious (which are favorites of time and motion experts):
  • Use a menu and check off each item as it is prepared.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate. Nothing new here--many hands do make light work. But I am continually amazed at how many folks don't do this. My motto: It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to be fun and pleasant. So for me, that means letting others help put the production on so I have time and energy to enjoy the day also.
  • Do as much as possible prior to the day of the event. For instance, if mashed potatoes are part of the menu, then peel all you'll need and keep them in the fridge, covered in salt water, until time to cook on event day. So many parts of a traditional holiday meal can be prepared early and cooked or baked later: sweet potatoes, dressing, crudities, gravy, veggies for steaming, veggies for salad, pies, cakes, cookies, even rolls. (Go the Rhoades Bake 'n Serve route by mixing your dough, let rise once, form into balls, and freeze. On bake-day, remove from freezer, thaw, let rise once, and bake.) The table can even be set the day before. You get the idea. Pre-event work frees up the kitchen on the day of the event for other tasks, and saves you time and energy that you can devote to guests, etc.
  • On prep day(s), designate task centers so folks don't fall over each other and the work flows easily.
  • Have a system in place for after-meal clean-up. For instance, provide an extra trash container for scraping dishes. Have a specific spot designated for stacking dirty plates, bowls, silverware, glasses, pots/pans, etc. In fact, fill the sink with hot soapy water for the scraped plates and bowls, etc., to sit in as you load your dishwasher. This will saves a LOT of water--no rinse, rinse, rinse needed. 
  • Have a system in place for sharing left-overs. I often hear folks say they love being invited to a holiday meal, but they really miss not having any left-overs in their own fridge, which is part and parcel to cooking for holiday guests. SO, prior to the occasion, stash some restaurant-style take-home containers (restaurants will sell or maybe give them to you). When cleaning up after the meal, you can divvy up the goods amongst yourself and your guests. They'll love you for your thoughtfulness.
Now the not-so-obvious:
  • Keep files for special day meals: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, Valentines, Easter, July 4th, Halloween, individual birthdays, etc. Each event has its own folder and in it would go:
    • The menu for the day
    • Copies of tried-and-true recipes you always use.
    • Recipes you plan to try.
    • Contact information you rely on (the bakery where you get your rolls, the orchard owner that supplies you with fresh apple juice, and etc.).
    • Even product labels (that of the very best turkey you've ever had, for instance).
    • Number of guests and amounts of everything served (10 pounds potatoes, 2 cherry pies, 2 pumpkin pies, etc.).
    • Who brought or prepared what.
    • A picture of your table decor that you take
    • An assessment page (this step is for die-hard entertainers): What went well? What didn't? What would you repeat? What would you do differently? The whole point of these files is to save you time and energy for next year's event. Make it easy on yourself--stop reinventing the wheel each time an occasion rolls around.
If you try just one or two of these tips, I know your work will be lighter and your event will be easier to put on. And of course, you'll find more help in earlier posts on preparing food ahead of time ("gravels"), involving family (kid-friendly kitchen) in the kitchen work and doing what you can to make your kitchen truly user-friendly (fridge organization). Now it's YOUR turn: do you have tips for us on how to get the holiday meal on the table with less muss and less fuss? Please share--we're all in this together, remember. And until next time, here's to gettin' ready for the big one (Thanksgiving), and as always, here's to making family dinner hour possible.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Serve Up Some FUN Now and Then--Try Pomegranates!

Once in awhile, just for the heck of it, serve something for dinner that's a little out of your ordinary repertoire. This mealtime approach has two advantages: 1) it sparks interest and can be a draw to the table, and 2) it can broaden the palate (a kind thing to do for children today, whose palates are somewhat narrow in scope thanks to the saturation of fast food joints in our communities).

The pomegranate is a good food to start with when it comes to broadening the mealtime repertoire. Besides being pretty, tasty, and fun to eat, they are super healthy for us. And November is Nat'l Pomegranate Month--they're at their peak in flavor and at their best price right now. So I thought it would be fun to see what could be done with this attractive and interesting fruit. The official pomegranate site,, teaches how to seed and juice it as well as offers some good recipes. 

Here's their pomegranate how-to and a couple recipes I bet your children might like. And if YOU have some fun recipes we ought to try on our families, please share. We're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to serving up some FUN and making family dinner hour possible!


Fresh pomegranates appear in September and last through December. They are picked ripe, so the fruit is ready to enjoy when you take it home. A good pomegranate should have a soft, leathery skin that gives lightly when pressed. Look for heavy pomegranates: weight is an indication of juiciness. Some markings do not affect the flavor, but avoid fruit with shriveled skin. When refrigerated, pomegranates will keep for up to 3 months.

To seed:

Cut off crown; cut into sections.              

Place sections in bowl of water; roll out juice sacs with fingers; discard everything else.

Strain out water; eat succulent juice sacs whole, seeds and all.                            

To juice:  
In blender, place 1-1/2 to 2 cups seeds in a blender; blend until liquefied. Pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or sieve. Caution, pomegranate juice stains.

 Pomegranate and Banana Salad (serves 4)
3 bananas 
1 Tbsp brown sugar

2 limes (or 1/4 C freshly squeezed lime juice)
Mix together the juice of the limes and the tablespoon of sugar. Adjust sweet and sour to taste. Score and seed both pomegranates freeing the seeds. Mound the pomegranate seeds in the center of the salad plates and slice the bananas around the perimeter of the seeds. Drizzle with the prepared lime dressing and serve.

Pomegranate Yogurt Dip (makes 2 cups)
1 large pomegranate
2  C chilled plain yogurt
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 C pomegranate juice

1/4 C fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt
Fresh mint sprigs
Separate seeds from the pomegranate.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, pomegranate juice, scallions, cilantro, and salt. Gently fold in all but 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds. Place in serving bowl and garnish with mint and seeds. Chill for 30 minutes.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Teach Your Kids to Clean as They Cook: Eliminate Kid-Made-Messes FOREVER!

Who doesn't want more help from their kids in the kitchen--more cooking or baking help especially? But at the same time, who DOES want the mess they can leave behind after their culinary contributions? Today I'm sharing how to eliminate the kid-made-messes forever!

Kitchen work is a lot of fun if there's a routine to it, and a "clean as you go" routine is one kids should learn early on--it saves them time in the long run and makes what they're doing pleasant. AND, the clean and tidy kitchen they leave behind is ready for the guy (likely YOU) who needs to work in there next. Good cooks are considerate cooks...

Here are 6 things (the "clean-as-you-go") you want your kids to always do when cooking or baking:
1) Study the recipe. My friend, Shirley J executive chef, Brian Richter, says the most efficient, and less messy way to work is to read the recipe and lay out all needed equipment and ingredients (pre-measured) beforehand. (By the way, this is a good overall life-lesson we can teach our kids: study the professionals and model their methods--no matter what the job!)

2) Trap your trash. Have them tape a trash bag to the counter edge where they'll be working. This will save trips to the kitchen trash container (saving time and energy) and serves to keep the work surface tidy.

3) Spray for safety. Provide them with a plastic spray bottle of highly diluted bleach water and clean dish cloth, for frequent disinfecting of surfaces. Teach them that wiping as you work contributes to health safety, and makes the after-cleanup a breeze.

4) Wash while working. Have them fill the sink with HOT soapy water. As they proceed through their recipe, they should deposit all dirty items (measuring cups and spoons, beaters, bowls, pots and pans, etc.) into the sink. What a time-saver this is--stuff almost washes itself while the cook works. When the recipe is complete, they quickly wash, wipe and put things away. (Yes, they could fill the dishwasher with the dirty items, but doing it this way really is the smarter way to work in the long run. You'll appreciate having more dishwasher space for the after-meal cleanup.)

5) Tidy the tools. Incorporate this House Rule: All appliances/tools used during the work (mixers, stove top, microwave, fridge door, etc.) are to be wiped and shined before leaving the kitchen. This is working considerately (thinking of the next guy to follow in their wake--again, likely YOU) and working responsibly (equipment lasts longer when it's taken good care of). And it makes the next job inviting--who likes to cook or bake with dirty equipment? No one. 

6) Finally, Sweep and empty. The food is prepared, the kitchen is lookin' good--but be sure your kids know to sweep the floor and empty the trash before they exit stage left. Some moms have their kids do this last step after the meal is eaten--doesn't matter. Just be sure your kids know this is part of the "clean-as-you-go" routine.

As you and your children develop the above kitchen work habits (they need you to model the behavior expected of them), you'll save time and energy and cooking and baking will be much more fun. Are there kitchen cleaning tips YOU know of that our kids should learn? If so, please share--we're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here' to eliminating those kid-made-messes forever, and making family dinner hour possible!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Fantastic Quick Bread for Those Special Folks at Your Dinner Table

We've been talking about ways to start children cooking/baking so they will eventually
become real assets to helping get dinner on the table. I mentioned that we started our   kids out making popcorn, then taught them to make brownies, and then quick breads. I remembered one of our favorites, Cranberry Oatmeal Bread and thought I'd share the recipe.
The color of this bread is beautiful, studded with all the bright red cranberries. And the taste and fragrance are rich and comforting. Yum. It's a great way to get the kids learning to cook and bake. Why not have them whip up a batch--some for your dinner and some to take to a neighbor?

Fresh cranberries are plentiful now, they freeze well, and they're a traditional holiday experience, so stock up on a few extra bags. And do you have ideas on ways to get kids cooking, or favorite holiday recipes you'd like to share? Please talk to us--we're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to enjoying this incredible bread and making family dinner hour possible!

 1 cup oatmeal
 1-1/4 cups hot water
 3/4 cup butter, softened
 1/2 cup sour cream
 1-1/4 cups brown sugar
 2 Tbsp. grated orange pee
 1 egg
 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1-1/4 cups chopped cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8x4" loaf pans and set aside. In medium bowl, combine oats and hot water, stir, and let stand for 5 minutes. In large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add oat mixture, sour cream, orange peel, and egg and blend well. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and mix gently. Fold in cranberries and walnuts.

Spoon batter into prepared pans and smooth to level. In small bowl combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Sprinkle over batter.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 to 65 minutes until bread is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool 5 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edges of the breads and remove to wire rack to cool. Wrap in plastic wrap to store.

Monday, November 16, 2009

FAMILY--The Catalyst Behind All Those Meals!

I missed blogging Friday, so today you get two posts! (See below for my other entry, "The Holiday-Ready Kitchen.")

In this fun picture you see my three daughters and one of my four sons (the baby of the boys). We were at an outdoor wedding reception this past August. We had a blast.

I wanted you to see at least a partial (someday I'll have a complete picture of all of us) reason why I feel so strongly about families eating together as often as possible. I think back to when these kids were young and it seems like yesterday. Now everyone is grown, gone, and on their own. In fact, I just returned from almost a week with my oldest son and his family--this fine young man has a darling wife and three of the most adorable children you could ask for (no brag, just reporting the news...). WHERE has the time gone! (And thank goodness their momma also knows the importance of family dinner time, so the tradition lives on.)

Time around the dinner table with these precious people was some of the most important time I spent in my life! Thank goodness for all those meals and the memories I now have of those times.

I know you're busy and life keeps getting in the way, but I just can't help beating this drum: "FAMILY is all we have and our babies grow up so fast. You'll never regret the effort and energy you put into making family dinner hour possible. The memories you make will be priceless!"

As the holidays (and all the great meals that go with 'em) approach, now is the perfect time to settle into this very crucial and wonderful habit. And please, when you have a minute, please share YOUR family meal memories, tips, ideas, and encouragement. We're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

The Holiday-Ready Kitchen

The coming holidays generally mean entertaining and lots of family dinners. And there's not a room more overworked during the holidays, than the kitchen. So let's take some time to get your kitchen holiday-ready--one that'll meet the demands placed on it—a kitchen that will be easy to work and entertain in!

Ground rules: We’ll group and store like items (top quality items known as “keepers”) together, and we’ll get rid of anything we don’t like, use, need, want, or have room for.  

Generally there’s a whole lotta bakin’ going on, so let’s start by creating a baking center:
Choose a cupboard above a piece of counter-top where you do your mixing. This cupboard should hold every spice you bake with. So if your herbs and spices are stored together, separate them. ONLY keep those you KNOW you will truly use. Place all keeper spices in a container or on a plastic turntable, and sit them in this cupboard.

This cupboard should also hold all other baking ingredients: baking soda, baking powder, flour, sugars, fats, baking chips, coconut, vanilla and other extracts, food colorings, and so on. Again, ONLY keep those you know you will use and are fresh.

Gather your measuring cups, measuring spoons, mixer beaters,  rubber spatulas (only those with good edges), rolling pin, pastry blender, pastry cloth, cookie cutters, and so on, into one place (perhaps a drawer below the counter where you do your mixing).

Gather your baking pans, baking sheets, mixing bowls, and mixers (hand and counter) into one place (perhaps a cupboard below the drawer and counter where you do your mixing). Remember to ask yourself if you still like, use, need, want or have room for these items. Do yourself a favor and get rid of duplicates, seldom-to-never-used items, and things that aren’t up to par (rusty pans are a common candidate). If there’s room, all electric appliances used for baking would go here as well (bread maker, grain grinder, etc.).

Holidays can mean visitors, which can mean extra cooking, so let’s create a cooking center next:
A cooking center usually involves an upper cupboard, a drawer, a lower cupboard, and of course, the stove. So if you can locate your center near the stove, all the better.

Gather your herbs—sorting through to eliminate those you’ll never use or are out of date. Group your keepers into a container or onto a plastic turntable.

Gather all other ingredients you cook with: oils, cornstarch, salt & pepper, bouillon cubes, and so on, and group them into the cupboard with your herbs.

Sort through your pots, pans and lids. Keep only quality and don’t keep duplicates. Group them into a cupboard below the upper cupboard, if possible. If there’s room, the electric cooking appliances would go here as well.

If you have a drawer near the stove, this is where your potholders and table trivets would go—ONLY keepers, though. Get rid of any with ugly stains, burn holes, etc.

This is just a general approach to creating two of the most important centers for a
user-friendly kitchen—the baking and the cooking centers. Customize them to meet your needs. The basic idea is to get rid of stuff you no longer like, use, need, want or have room for, which will save you LOTS of effort when it's time to bake or cook. Centering a kitchen also saves time, and is the professional way to setting a kitchen up for serious work, which is exactly what the holidays call for! And of course, creating the user-friendly kitchen is a HUGE step to making family dinner hour possible over the long haul. So until next time--let's get the kitchen holiday-ready! 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just for the FUN of IT!

Snacks are just fun, and eating them with folks we love is even more fun. And maybe the best snack fun of all is making them together. Making snacks and eventually desserts, is a great way to get the kids cooking--and we both know what a great help family can be to getting dinner on the table. I started my children out with making popcorn, then we moved to brownies. From there they ran with the ball, so to speak!

If you're interested in getting your kids into the cooking groove, here's a recipe for homemade Fritos (no kidding!) that is not just easy and tasty, but healthy (no preservatives, MSG or other chemicals). Following the Frito recipe is one for healthier homemade caramel corn (no kidding again!) and instructions on how to make popcorn on the stovetop. So just for the fun of it, bring on the family-made snacks. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

1/2 cup organic, non-GMO yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 450F degrees. Combine cornmeal and salt in a mixing bowl. Pour in boiling water and stir, add olive oil, and stir until well blended.
Drop mixture by heaping teaspoonfuls onto a well-greased baking sheet and press each one with the bottom of a glass. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes approximately 3 dozen chips.

This delicious sticky sweet caramel corn doesn’t rely on unhealthy ingredients. I started with a recipe from the Popcorn Board and swapped in my favorite wholesome components:

10 cups freshly popped popcorn
2 cups whole almonds
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar)
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 225F. Lightly coat a 15 x 10 baking sheet with oil. Mix popcorn and almonds in large bowl. Combine sugar, coconut oil and maple syrup in medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir mixture until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla, almond extract and baking soda.
Pour over popcorn and almonds, immediately stirring gently to coat. Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet, spreading evenly. Bake for 1 hour in preheated oven. Cool completely. Break into pieces and store in airtight container. (Yield: 20 servings)

Range-Top Popping from The Popcorn Board:
To pop popcorn on a range-top, assemble the following:
• A 3- to 4-quart pan with a loose lid that allows steam to escape.
• At least enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan, one kernel deep.
• 1/3 cup of oil for every cup of kernels. (Don’t use butter!)

Heat the oil to 400-460 degrees Fahrenheit (if the oil smokes, it is too hot). Test the oil on a couple of kernels. When they pop, add the rest of the popcorn, cover the pan and shake to evenly spread the oil. When the popping begins to slow, remove the pan from the stove-top. The heated oil will still pop the remaining kernels.
Pre-salting kernels toughens popcorn. So, salt the popcorn after it has been popped–or skip salt altogether and add salt-free spices.