I’m not sure how it started but my sons and and their grandmother  have a running joke about eyeballs.  The boys will throw the word “eyeball” into a conversation and Grammy pretends to be totally grossed out (although sometimes it’s not an act!).

Eyeball (un) Appetizers (lesson learned: use a black or red plate if you want your eyeballs to really stand out!)

The boys love this joke so much, I thought it would be fun to really gross Grammy out with some creepy Halloween appetizers.  So here’s your warning:  If the thought of eating an eyeball makes your stomach turn, this is not the post for you.  But if you crave a little  fun with your food, here’s a sure-fire Halloween party hit for your little ghouls and goblins.  Eyeball (un)Appletizers!

My boys thought these were fabulous!  They had a lot of fun making the eyeballs and even more fun serving them.  They chopped the crab with plastic knifes, made the salad, stuffed a few egg while mommy stuffed the rest, and added the sliced olive pupils.  We served the eyeballs on a plate with a lid, so when Grammy lifted the lid she would see two eyes staring back at her.  Success!  Grammy was totally grossed out by these!  She managed to choke down one before she gagged and couldn’t continue, but the  boys (and their Papa) laughed like crazy and ate a lot! I had two and they weren’t bad (although I admit I took the black olive off the second one–very cool looking but not the best taste combination!).

Hope you have fun making and eating your own disgusting Halloween (un)appetizers!

Eyeball (un)Appetizers

8 – 12 hardboiled eggs
4 – 6 ounces crab or chicken salad (see salad suggestions below)
Sliced black olives or raisins

Shell the eggs and slice them in half.  Remove the egg yolks and save them for something else (egg salad is a yummy low oxalate lunch).  Arrange the egg halves on a serving plate.  Spoon 1 – 2 teaspoons of crab salad into the hollow of each egg half.  Top each egg with a slice of black olive.  Enjoy!

Makes 16 – 24 appetizers.

"Ewwww!"

Salad Suggestions:  I wanted my eyeballs to really be gross with a somewhat realistic texture and a blood-shot appearance.  The easiest way to do this is to use real or imitation crab, separated or cut into chunks.  Add enough mayonnaise to hold it together and maybe a dash of salt and pepper or Old Bay seasoning, and Voila!  You have a crab salad that will make your eyeballs look bloodshot (and really gross!).  Another way to do this is to use shredded or finely chopped chicken or turkey.  Again add a little mayo, pepper, and salt, but this time you might want to add some thin strips of red bell pepper to achieve the blood-shot look.  I used 8 ounces of crab meat to make my salad and had at least a third of it left over after stuffing the eyeballs (which my sons ate as their snack that day without any add-ins).  You can always make a bigger batch of salad than you need.  After stuffing your eggs, add your favorite veggies, fruits, or seasonings and lunch is served!

In honor of the new school year I’ve been experimenting with granola bar and energy bar recipes for back-to-school lunchboxes and nutritious breakfasts on the go.  Here’s a high fiber, nutritious granola bar that’s not only fun for kids to eat, it’s fun for kids to make!  The bars resemble oatmeal bar cookies more than traditional granola bars because I chose to use milk instead of carmelized butter and sugar as my binder, but that’s what keeps these easy enough for young children to make on their own (or for busy parents to make quickly!).

Cameron mixes his granola bars.

 My boys were able to measure, pour and mix these granola bars with only a little assistance.  I had to do the final spreading and baking, but the boys did most of the work themselves.  Unfortunately I timed things wrong the first time we made these bars and they were almost cooled and ready to cut at 5:15 when my boys and I came inside from playing.  I hadn’t made dinner yet and the boys “needed one” right then, so I cut a couple bars and we had them with milk.  Then I cut a couple more bars, added some apple slices, fresh veges and cottage cheese and called it dinner.  The hamburgers thawing in the refridgerator could wait for the next night, but enjoying the boys’ fresh-baked granola bars could not.  After all, it’s the daily ritual of sitting down at the dinner table and enjoying each other’s company that’s important to me.

Easy Granola Bars

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or peanuts
3/4 cup unsweetened flaked or coursely shredded coconut
1/4 cup isolated protein powder (soy, whey, rice or pea), optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 15 ounce can condensed milk
1/2 cup honey or sweetener of your choice*

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees and grease a 9 x9 inch baking pan.  Combine the oats, flax seeds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, coconut, protein powder and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix the milk and sweetener.  Pour the milk mixture over the oat mixture and stir until just moistened.  Press the granola into the prepared pan, then bake for about 30 minutes until the top is golden brown.  (If you do not have a 9 x 9 inch pan, you may press the granola into about 9 or 10  inches  of a 13 x 9 inch pan and leave the rest empty).

Let the granola cool completely, then cut it into 14-18 bars (about 1 inch by 4.5 inch each).  Store the bars in an air-tight container for up to one week.

* A Note about Sweeteners: Honey, maple syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, Splenda and stevia (1/2 teaspoon stevia powder or 1 teaspoon liquid) all work in this recipe, but honey and maple syrup add the best flavor.  If you use stevia, these bars will not brown.  You may want to add a teaspoon of honey to help the bars brown or rely on a timer for doneness.  You may also want to experiment with different levels of sweetness.  When I make these bars with dried cranberries, chocolate chips or extra raisins, I reduce the sweetener. 

Variations:  Try any combination of dried apples, dried bananas, dried cranberries, peanuts, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds,  or chocolate chips instead of the raisins, pumpkin seeds and coconut.  One yummy combination is 3/4 cup dried apple pieces, 3/4  cup raisins, 1/2 cup walnuts and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. (Your total add-ins should equal about 1.5 – 2 cups.) For a dairy-free version of this recipe, visit my blog, low oxalte family cooking

Traditional Granola Bars: You may also wish to make a more traditional granola bar or granola.  Do this by omiting the milk.  Start by toasting the oats and pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet at 300 degrees for about 15 minutes until golden brown.  Meanwhile, put 3 tablespoons butter (or coconut oil) in a skillet on low heat.  When the butter melts, add 1/2 cup brown sugar, honey or maple syrup and stir until the mixture carmalizes (stevia and Splenda will not work). Pour all the other ingredients (except the milk) in a bowl, add the carmel mixture and the toasted oat mixture, and stir until just combined. Press the granola into a greased 9 x 9 inch pan and bake for about 30 minutes for traditional granola bars OR spoon the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for about 25 -30 minutes, stopping and stirring the mixture every 8-10 minutes during the cooking for traditional granola.  Cool completely before cutting the bars or storing.

If you’ve been wanting to make cookies with your kids but are nervous about your kids eating the dough, try egg-free cookies.  You can find lots of recipes on-line, but be fore-warned: eggs are an important chemical component of baking, and most egg-free cookies and cakes have a slightly weird or crumbly consistency.  That said, you can find some really yummy egg-free cookies that are worth experimenting with.

Donovan loves licking the spoon after making egg-free cookies!

My sister-in-law, Katie, and nephew, Donovan, recently sent me a recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies from Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods by Cynthia Lair.  Katie loves this cookbook–both the author’s philosophy about introducing healthy foods to young children (the author doesn’t make separate meals!) AND the recipes.  Katie has loved almost every recipe she’s tried.  If you’re new to whole foods cooking, it simply means using unprocessed or minimally-processed foods whenever possible, such as whole grains, raw nuts, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.  It means keeping your food as healthy and as natural as possible.  If this seems a little “too healthy” for you, you might try adding more whole foods to your menus as a way to add extra nutrition, not necessarily as an entire lifestyle change.  Katie is a regular mom who succumbs to boxed macaroni and cheese and fish sticks on the nights she needs to get out of the house early for her book club meeting (and feels guilty later . . .).  Luckily, Cynthia Lair’s cookbook allows Katie to “balance out” her son’s nutrition and to feel good that on average she’s doing just fine.

Donovan mixes the dough all by himself.

Donovan made Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies for his play date friends last  week–a fun, self-esteem building activity that he could do (mostly) by himself.  He measured, poured and mixed all the ingredients.  He even spooned a few cookies onto the cookie sheets himself.  Best of all, Donovan got to lick the spoon when they were finished because the dough was egg-free.  The only problem: he and his friends ate all the cookies in one day!  My boys and I had the same problem, but for a very different reason.  I foolishly announced that these cookies were special because they could eat some of the dough at the end, and my boys took this as an invitation to eat all the dough they wanted (silly mommy).  In fact, they were really upset when I took enough dough to make three measly cookies just so I could see how the finished product turned out (I have to admit the dough was really good . . .).   Our verdict: a yummy, easy recipe that parents can feel good about!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

(from Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foodsby Cynthia Lair)

Look at me!

1 1/2  cups rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the oats, flour, and salt  in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the maple syrup, butter, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to dry mixture and mix well. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. With moist hands form dough into 3 inch cookies and place them on lightly oiled cookie sheet or one lined with parchment paper. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes until edges are brown. Enjoy!
Makes 1 dozen 3 inch cookies

My boys love to make cottage cheese pancakes on days we aren’t rushed.  I crack the eggs, but they can “measure,” pour, and mix the pancakes themselves.  Cottage cheese pancakes are especially good for young cooks, because unlike flour-based pancakes, egg-based pancakes do not need precise measurements. You can begin to teach the basics of measuring ingredients correctly, but if your kids put in too much flour or too little cottage cheese it won’t ruin breakfast. Just eyeball the amounts as your kids pour them in, then make adjustments at the end if the consistency doesn’t seem right.

Young cook makes cottage cheese pancakes

Aidan stirs the eggs and cottage cheese.

These pancakes pack a lot of protein, so they’re perfect for kids who don’t eat meat or other high protein foods.  Paired with fresh fruit, they also make a great dinner on nights when you don’t feel like cooking a traditional meal.  My boys like to eat plain, cold pancakes for a snack the next day, so we usually make a double batch.

Cottage Cheese Pancakes

4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
½ cup whole wheat flour (or baking mix*)
Dash salt
Canola oil for frying

Mix eggs, cottage cheese, flour and salt in a bowl with a spout if possible.  Heat about ½ tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat until it’s hot enough to sizzle.  Pour pancake batter into the skillet in 1/3 to 1/2 cup portions.  Cook until bubbles start to form on top of the pancakes and the underneath in golden brown (about 3 or 4 minutes).  Flip the pancakes once and cook another 1-2 minutes.  Serve cottage cheese pancakes with the traditional butter and syrup, or try peanut butter, apple butter, honey, jam, sour cream or fresh fruit.  One topping my boys really love is plain yogurt mixed with a little maple syrup and cinnamon.

*Note: These pancakes are much denser than traditional pancakes.  You may substitute a commercial or homemade baking mix for the flour and salt if you want a slightly fluffier pancake.

Yeild: 6-8 pancakes (recipe easily doubles or triples for larger families)

Variation:  Add ½ cup grated apple, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, a drizzle of honey, and another ¼ cup flour for apple spice pancakes. Yum!  These are especially good as a left-over snack the next day.