Coconut Rice Pudding with Pineapple

Pastry chefs amaze me. They are scientists, artists, and culinary masters in equal measure, capable of creating desserts that leave dinners in gastronomic and aesthetic ecstasy. Whether it’s a multi-tiered ganache-frosted cake, artfully arranged fruit tart, or spun-sugar sculpture, pastry chefs certainly know how to finish a meal.

I, however, am not a pasty chef. A far cry, really, having seized the chocolate in my most recent dessert recipe even after following the instructions precisely.

Which, perhaps, is why I like this recipe for coconut rice pudding so much. There are no tricks, no special techniques, and it is very forgiving. Stir it for one minute less or one minute more and you’ll still have a delicious dish…not a pan of “it tastes better than it looks” or “hey, I think I have enough ice cream in the freezer to be used as a back up plan.”

Sweet and creamy: coconut rice pudding, pairs beautifully with pineapple

Sweet and creamy: coconut rice pudding pairs beautifully with pineapple

Rice pudding is also one of those recipes loved the world ’round. Nearly every country has their own take on this comforting dish, from the Algerian m’halbi laced with cinnamon and rosewater, to the Indian firni with cardamom and pistachio, to the sweet orange- and clove-tinged Peruvian arroz con leche, to the Norwegian Christmas specialty riskrem, or the German Milchreis with apples and cherries.

Serve a bowl of rice pudding and you’re taking your family and guests back to simpler times. Rice puddings have an almost child-like magic to them, able to convey both love and comfort in one bite, warm or chilled. Chocolate tortes may be awe-inspiring, but rice puddings are soul-inspiring.

Get the recipe for our magical Coconut Rice Pudding with Pineapple here!

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Gingered Meringues with Fresh Pineapple

I love reading cookbooks with my Sprouts. One day when Daughter 1 was a little over a year old she made a food request specifically known to us by excitedly reacting to a beautiful photograph of spaghetti with tomato sauce on the cover of Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian. This wasn’t a dish we’d yet introduced her to at that tender age (she was barely eating solids at that point) but we made it that evening, resulting in what we refer to as The Great Spaghetti Slurping Episode. Taking the end of a noodle between her lips, she sucked the whole thing completely into her mouth in — I swear — under 1.2 seconds. One moment it was there, and the next it was not. But a big grin was.

That grin stuck with me. I’m always excited to try something the girls find in one of our many cookbooks. It’s a great way to explore new tastes. When Daughter 2 came across a lovely picture of meringues in a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s award-winning Plenty this weekend, visions of that spaghetti-induced grin played through my mind. Only this time, I saw a smile inspired by shatteringly crisp bits of meringue and fresh fruit.

Read on to get our recipe for gingered meringues with fresh pineapple.

Homemade Mango-Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups

It’s Valentine’s Day The Stout Sprout style. Those of you who have been following us for a bit know that this winter has been one for the history books. We had another record snowfall event this week, which meant another snow day, which meant we had two lovely little ladies kicking around the house ready to wreak havoc.

We channeled that energy into cooking something special for Valentine’s Day: our own homemade fruit leather, aka fruit roll-ups. This is definitely one of those recipes you should try on a day when you’ve got extra and abundant time, though it is incredibly easy and kid-friendly. The ingredient list is short, the participation factor is high, and the results are delicious. It does take quite a few hours in a low-temperature oven so be warned: best to start this project in the morning if you want to be nibbling fruit roll-ups for dessert.

Get the recipe for homemade mango-strawberry fruit roll-ups here.

Ambrosia

I imagine that the conversation on Mount Olympus went something like this the first time the twelve Olympians dined on ambrosia:

Zeus: “So, Hera, what’s for dinner tonight?”
Hera: “Oh, you know. The usual. Poseidon and Artemus are whipping up a little surf and turf.”
Zeus: “Again? Oh, Hera, you know that I enjoy the bounty of sea and land as much as the next god, but don’t you think we can mix it up every now and again? With something, you know, a little fruity.”
Hera: “Fruity? Seriously, Zeus, you picked today to get all vegetarian on us?”
Zeus: “Well, how about something sweet. You know how I like sweet little things….”
Aphrodite: “Did someone say sweet? Have I got a dish for you. I call it ambrosia, the nectar of the gods.”
Hera: “Nectar, huh? Well, that does sound kind-of tasty. I’ll ask Hermes if he can just run down to Macedonia and pick up a couple of ingredients.”
Aphrodite: “And while he’s at it, can he ask Dionysus to bring a bottle or two of a nice Beaujolais?”
Hera: “Beaujolais? Sounds lovely, but that sure is a funny name for a Greek wine.”

Make the gods happy and click here for our Ambrosia recipe.

Mini Ricotta Cheesecakes with Gingersnap Crusts and Apple-Walnut-Dried Fruit Compote

I envy those organized folks who have their Thanksgiving menus planned weeks in advance. Turkeys ordered, Parker House rolls made and frozen, pantries stocked with cans of pumpkin purée. Truth is, I’m usually deciding on dishes up until the last minute.

My husband, wise man that he is, is a big fan of “tradition,” which to him means making many of the same tried and true — and loved — holiday dishes every year. I’m a lot less decisive than he is (and by “a lot,” I really and truly mean a LOT). Tradition could certainly help us avoid the “ew, yucks” with the two young kids in the house. I mean, who, really, could turn their nose up at a big bowl of creamed corn? But every year I’m tempted to try something new. Personally, I think it’s because I like food so much that I just can’t commit to any one dish. And I think the family is patiently waiting to see what dish that will be this year.

If you’re like me, one of the few areas of the meal where you can spread your culinary wings is dessert. Sure, pumpkin pie is a staple on our table (tradition!), but the girls and I made a wonderful dessert this week that they both declared a winner. These were fun to make, fun to eat (they are so small that portion control is automatically built in!), and I could easily see us serving these along with the pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving…leaving our more “traditional” side dishes alone for once.

Ready for dessert - miniaturized

Ready for dessert – miniaturized

Several notes on ingredients: this was yet another opportunity for us to highlight the fresh ricotta cheese from Fulper’s Farm that we picked up at the West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market. It’s a creamy, moist ricotta which needs to be drained for several hours in a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl before using. You don’t want watery cheesecakes, believe me. For the gingersnap crust, I’m partial to using Sweetzels Spiced Wafers, a regional Philadelphia cookie that my sister and I remember having with warm apple cider when we were kids. To me, they are the epitome of fall.

The stuff of memories. Love these cookies.

The stuff of memories. Love these cookies.

And speaking of all things apple, we picked the apples for the compote at Terhune Orchards in Lawrenceville, NJ. You’ll want firm-fleshed apples for this recipe so that they hold some shape and texture when cooked. I even thought about using the last of our Asian Pears from Stultz Farm (also picked up at the farmer’s market) in this recipe, which would have been just as good. Maybe next time. And finally, do yourself a favor and use local honey for the compote if you can — nothing too fancy, either. Clover honey works just fine, but there is something special about fresh honey when it comes from a few miles, vs. a few states, away. It just tastes better.

Terhune Orchards Farm Store - the farm cats are a big draw

Terhune Orchards Farm Store – the farm cats are a big draw

Oh – you’ll want a mini muffin tin for this as well, though I suppose you could use a regular muffin tin and just be careful not to fill the cups up too much. Ours is non-stick, which really helped us when it came time to un-mold these babies. This recipe made 12 mini-cheesecakes so portion accordingly.

Making crusts with gingersnap crumbs and butter

Making crusts with gingersnap crumbs and butter

So, if you’re feeling stuck in your menu planning and want to add something new onto your holiday dessert table give these a try. Who knows — you just might start a whole new tradition in your house!

Cinnamon and cardamom marry nicely in these little gems

Cinnamon and cardamom marry nicely in these little gems

Mini Ricotta Cheesecakes with Gingersnap Crusts and Apple-Walnut-Dried Fruit Compote

Cheesecake ingredients:
8 gingersnap cookies, crushed to a medium-fine crumb
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese, drained for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight
1 egg, separated
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 ounce dark rum
1 quarter-sized slice of fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of Kosher salt

Apple Compote ingredients:
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large or 3 medium firm-fleshed apples, cored but NOT peeled, and cut into medium (1/2 inch) dice
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom (if you don’t have a 1/16 teaspoon measure, eyeball it by only filling half of a 1/8 teaspoon measure
1/4 cup honey
Pinch of Kosher salt

Begin by preheating your oven to 325 degrees.

Mix together the gingersnap crumbs and 1 tablespoon of the melted butter until the mixture resembles moist sand. When you squeeze a handful together in your palm it should just barely hold together.

Using half of the remaining melted butter, grease the bottoms and sides of the cups in a non-stick mini muffin tin (one dozen capacity). Pack about a teaspoon to a teaspoon-and-a-half of the cookie crumbs into the bottom of each muffin cup, packing them down gently. The bottoms of each should be covered, but not too deeply.

Bake the crusts in the 325 degree oven for 10 minutes and remove to cool. Leave the oven on at 325 degrees.

Combine the 1/2 ounce rum and ginger slice in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer and then reduce heat to low for another minute before taking the mixture off heat. Add the vanilla and allow ginger to infuse the rum/vanilla mixture for at least another 10 minutes. Remove the ginger and discard.

Put the ricotta into the small bowl of a food processor and process for about one minute, until the cheese is quite creamy and smooth. Add the egg yolk, granulated sugar, the infused rum/vanilla mixture and a pinch of salt and process until all ingredients are very well incorporated.

Ricotta mixture, coming together

Ricotta mixture, coming together

In a separate medium bowl, whip the egg white using a hand mixer until it holds soft peaks. Carefully fold in the ricotta mixture.

Using the remaining melted butter, grease the sides of the muffin cups one more time and pour the ricotta mixture onto the crusts, leaving about 1/4 inch of space at the top. Be careful not to over-fill the cups even if you have a little ricotta batter left or they will run over. Believe me. Salvageable, but messy.

Cheesecakes in a water bath, waiting to go in the oven (hint: don't fill your muffin tins this full!)

Cheesecakes in a water bath, waiting to go in the oven (hint: don’t fill your muffin tins this full!)

Place the muffin tin on a larger rimmed baking sheet and fill it 1/2 full with water to create a water bath around the cheesecakes. Cook the cheesecakes at 325 for 45 minutes, until they are set but the center is just barely cooked through. They shouldn’t be too jiggly, but you don’t want them to dry out and crack either. Take a peek through the oven window about 35 minutes into baking to gauge progress. The tops may develop a bit of a skin, and that’s OK.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for at least another 3 – 4 hours and preferably overnight.

While cheesecakes are cooling make the compote. Begin by toasting the walnuts in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Stir frequently so they will not burn. When they are toasted, remove to a deep-sided bowl and crush into slightly smaller pieces. Do not pulverize — you’re looking for walnut chunks, not crumbs.

Wipe the sauté pan clean and bring to medium-high heat. Melt butter until it is foaming and add the apples, cranberries and raisins. Sauté for one minute until the apples are slightly soft and add the vanilla, cinnamon, and cardamom. Stir well and add the honey. Stir again and continue to cook over medium heat until the honey begins to bubble vigorously and thicken, coating all the other ingredients. When the honey is thick and has cooked down a bit, turn off the heat, add a pinch of salt and stir well, and allow the compote to cool completely.

To serve the cheesecakes, run a sharp knife around the edges of each cheesecake and carefully un-mold (if you’re using a non-stick muffin tin, try not to scratch it with the knife!). Top each cheesecake with a tablespoon or so of the compote. Keep the cheesecakes cool until ready to serve.

Makes: 12 mini cheesecakes.

So good I can't move my hands fast enough....

So good I can’t move my hands fast enough….

Parent rating: four-and-a-half stars. These are really good — almost too cute to eat. Almost. They are a great way to end a holiday meal. Next time I make them I may add just a little more cardamom. Cardamom is, in my opinion, an under-used spice but it has a very specific flavor. It’s rich and perfume-y but pairs quite nicely with cinnamon and ginger and gives a great autumnal flavor to these cheesecakes. By the way, if you’ve gotten this far and just don’t think you have the time to make these, do yourself a favor and make just the compote. Spoon it over a wedge of softened brie cheese and serve with crackers. Delish.
Kid rating: it’s unanimous: four-and-a-half stars from the kids as well. Both girls gobbled these up (turkey pun intended). I actually held out a small portion of the apple compote before adding nuts, and Daughter 1 had the no-nut version (no allergies, but she isn’t a fan). Daughter 2 had the walnut version. Both were delighted. Dessert dilemma, solved!

Pumpkin Seed Brittle (This One’s Dairy-Free!)

Our pumpkin collection now numbers eleven. We carved one (the girls named him “Gourdy”…). We shellacked another five during a handful of “paint your own pumpkin” events — two of our more spectacular specimens were decorated with glue and pink sparkles. And five of them are the cute Jack Be Littles that are only 50-cents-a-piece at the farmer’s market. Who, after all, can say “no” to a three-year-old who begins naming them after family members?

Gourdy gets a kiss or two

Gourdy gets a kiss or two

Painting our pumpkins...and ourselves

Painting our pumpkins…and ourselves

We made a great batch of toasted pumpkin seeds (thank you, Gourdy) that, for once, I didn’t burn. And after we polished those off I began dreaming even more ardently of pumpkin seeds. Specifically, green hulled pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, those meaty little gems that turn up in Mexican molé sauces and few other places north of the border. Our Whole Foods Market sells them by the bag and they are a nice foil to the crunchy ones with the shells on that you toast yourself.

Shelled, aka hulled, pumpkin seeds

Shelled, aka hulled, pumpkin seeds

And since I couldn’t leave good enough alone I started to experiment a little bit. One thing led to another and now we have a sweet, crunchy tray of pumpkin seed brittle that we’ll be enjoying on Halloween. This version is dairy-free since we’ll be sharing it with lactose-intolerant friends, replacing the regular butter that goes into a brittle candy with a butter substitute. I started with a Pumpkin-Seed Brittle recipe on Martha Stewart’s web site (though it uses butter) and made a couple of changes to suite our needs and tastes.

It's addicting - pumpkin seed brittle

It’s addictive – pumpkin seed brittle

I should probably caution that this is a recipe your kids may want to make with you, but since it involves boiling sugar I strongly caution that you keep them away from the finished brittle until it has hardened. Have them mix the pumpkin seeds with the spices, but leave the rest of the cooking and pouring to an adult. Also, rumor has it that you can use those toasted, un-hulled pumpkin seeds if you like your brittle even crunchier. Or, try this with sunflower seeds, toasted slivered almonds, or toasted pine nuts for a different twist.

Here’s how we made ours:

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Ingredients:
1 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), picked over for shells or other organic matter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Several generous pinches flakey sea salt (total about 1/2 teaspoon)
4 tablespoons solid unsalted butter substitute (or, if you don’t have a dairy restriction, you can use butter)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup good-quality honey (something local if you have it)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Begin by lining a baking sheet with a non-stick silicone baking mat (like Silpat) or with a sheet of parchment paper that has been greased with 1 additional teaspoon of the butter substitute. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, allspice, and a pinch of salt. Toast the mixture over medium heat in a skillet on the stove top. Shake the skillet frequently to keep the seeds from burning. They may pop a bit over the heat so be careful. Toast for approximately 5 minutes, until most seeds have begun to lightly brown and the mixture has a nutty fragrance. Remove from heat.

One cup green hulled pumpkin seeds

One cup green hulled pumpkin seeds

In a large sauce pan melt the butter substitute and add the brown sugar, honey and vanilla. Bring to a boil and allow to bubble for approximately 6 minutes, until the mixture is a deep golden color and measures 280 degrees on a candy thermometer. Add the pumpkin seeds and, using a heat-proof silicone spatula, mix well. Allow to cook for approximately another 2 minutes, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees on the candy thermometer. The mixture will bubble in the pan and become quite thick.

Carefully pour the pumpkin seed mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, using the silicone spatula to spread the mixture to a thin layer that is about 1 seed thick. Working quickly, sprinkle evenly with another generous pinch or two of flaky sea salt, which will set into the brittle. Add the salt too late and it will just sit on top of the hardened candy.

Cooling the brittle on a Silpat mat

Cooling the brittle on a Silpat mat

Allow the brittle to cool completely. This will take at least an hour at room temperature. You can move to the refrigerator for faster cooling once the mixture has set a bit but that is not necessary…the brittle will harden on its own outside of the refrigerator.

Break into chunks to serve.

Serves: 6 – 8 (though Martha’s recipe indicates it serves a perhaps more realistic 4…who really, really like brittle).

Parent rating: Yum! Oops, I mean, four and a half stars. This is addicting. At first bite, you realize it’s not like any other candy you’ve had…a little more earthy, nice combination of salty and sweet. And then you go back for another bite. And another.
Kid rating: Very similar reaction. Daughter 1 took a bite and declared she wasn’t sure if she liked it. But an hour later she was back for more. And then more. Daughter 2 liked it from the get-go. They give it four stars.

Healthy Banana Splits: Yes, You Can Have Them For Breakfast!

With apologies to Wheaties, the self-proclaimed Breakfast of Champions, we’ve discovered another classic that, when served in a fancy soda-shop style container, can just as easily appear on the breakfast table as it can be served for dessert.

Banana Splits for breakfast? Yes!

Banana Splits for breakfast? Yes!

It’s the “healthy” banana split, and it’s gotten us through any number of crunch meal times. I like this because it can be dressed up in many ways, from ultra-healthy to just a little indulgent (break out the whipped cream…). The kids like it because they can participate in choosing their toppings, which is something our “I can do it myself” three-year-old especially enjoys. Some days we go simple with just a few embellishments, and others we have half a dozen toppings to choose from though there is nothing that says you can’t have even more if you’re feeling especially adventuresome.

The essential "healthy" ingredients

The essential “healthy” ingredients

The “healthy” part is a simple substitute of yogurt for ice cream, and then we load up on other non-guilty goodies like blueberries, strawberries, raisins, chopped prunes, dried cranberries, chopped dried pineapple or peaches, granola, Rice Krispies, KIX, sunflower seeds, chopped peanuts, sliced almonds…the options are wide open.

Some of the toppings we have on hand

Some of the toppings we have on hand

And if your family really does like their Wheaties, well, make that one of your topping choices. It’s kind-of like making the Breakfast of Champions the champion of breakfasts. Or snack time. Take your pick. And here’s another secret: I have succumbed to serving healthy banana splits for dinner (vegetarian!) every once in a while and I actually feel good about it. After all, when is the last time your kids licked the bowls clean at supper?

Can't wait to dig in

Can’t wait to dig in

Here are some ideas for making yours.

Healthy Banana Splits

Ingredients:
1 banana per person
1/2 cup French Vanilla or Plain yogurt per serving (or go crazy with your favorite yogurt flavor)
Toppings of your choice, which might include:
– Any type of dried fruit, cut into small pieces
– Any type of fresh fruit in bite-sized pieces (like peaches, apricots, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries….)
– Shelled sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds
– Sliced almonds, walnuts or crushed peanuts
– Granola
– Any other small, crunchy cereal including Rice Krispies, Cheerios, KIX, etc.
A drizzle of maple syrup or another syrup (hey, I’m not ruling out some chocolate sauce here!)
Whipped cream
Sprinkles or baby chocolate chips, if the kids have been really good
Maraschino cherries, if you’d like

Now, it’s not essential that you have a banana split bowl for this, but is sure does make it more fun to serve and eat.

Split the banana lengthwise (daughter 2 prefers hers cut into rounds and piled in the bowl), cover with yogurt, and load up on toppings. Finish with some syrup if using, a dollop of whipped cream and a cherry on top. If this will be dessert, go for the sprinkles or baby chocolate chips.

Serves: However many you need to serve!

Mom holds the yogurt while little hands make the split

Mom holds the yogurt while little hands make the split

Parent rating: Five stars. Truth be told, I wouldn’t want this for dinner every night but then, I wouldn’t want most things for dinner every night (except, perhaps, for Pad Thai…but that will have to wait for another post). This dish suits all tastes and can be served at just about any meal, or as a dessert. Creamy, crunchy, good for you, and FUN. Everything a busy parent could hope for.
Kid rating: Five stars. They have control over what goes ON the banana splits, which means it’s much more likely to end up IN the kid. Make these special with a couple of over-the-top touches: that whipped cream and cherry, for sure, but maybe your kids even deserve some sprinkles if they’ve had a really good day. I can pretty much guarantee your kids will be licking the bowl clean too. And if bananas aren’t your thing….1) kudos to you for reading this far, and 2) use a banana substitute! Sliced peaches, a baked apple, even some cubed melon would be good. Enjoy.