Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bananas with a Coat

We are going bananas over bananas here, and this is the first of a mini-series of recipes using the tropical fruit as a main ingredient for a lot of delicious treats for summer.

The best part for the kids is that bananas are easy to peel, cut, and eat. So when I invited them to spend some time in the kitchen to make this project they were very excited, and their enthusiasm just grew after they were told that melted chocolate would coat the bananas.

The project was very successful: Not only were they "painting"the fruit with chocolate, = they also learned about melting and freezing, fractions, and textures.

We will certainly share this culinary craft project with our friends soon, and are considering making them for a birthday party. Or maybe parents would not be thrilled about their chocolate-painted faces...

Bananas with a Coat

This recipe is adapted from Epicurious and Food. com, but to minimize the unavoidable mess in the kitchen we melted the chocolate in the microwave.

4 bananas, ripe but firm, cut into pieces or whole (boys here preferred to cut the bananas in small bites)
1 cup or 4 ounces semisweet chocolate (we used Belgium chocolate from Trader Joe's)
1 tablespoon canola oil
Your favorite toppings (chopped almonds, dry coconut flakes, chocolate sprinkles were our choices)

Insert wooden sticks into banana bites or whole fruit and freeze on waxed paper for about 2 hours. When they are frozen, melt chocolate in a microwave-safe shallow bowl for 30 seconds on full power and check for the melting point, poking the chocolate with a spoon. Keep repeating the process in the microwave until chocolate is melted. Then stir in oil.

Invite the kids to coat the bananas and roll them on the other ingredients. Freeze for one hour or more and serve frozen. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In season: Cherries

I'm so happy to see piles of cherries at the farmer's market: They're one of my favorite fruits for snacking on. I'm gearing up for an evening of pitting and canning cherries (a jar of cherries with simple syrup and vanilla bean is pure heaven in midwinter), but for now we're just nibbling handfuls and savoring their sweetness.

Fresh cherries take the spotlight in these recipes we've featured on Cook Play Explore: a fruity topping for vanilla-kissed scallops, a simple vinaigrette to dress up roasted beets, the sweet note in chicken salad, and the perfect sauce to drape over coconut-scented pudding. Read on for links and details

This recipe was inspired by a contest at Mango & Tomato — and to our delight, it took top honors! This is simple and elegant, a perfect entrée to share with friends on a gorgeous summer evening.

Earthy, earnest beets get all dressed up in a cherries and balsamic vinegar — just the right touch of sweetness to maybe coax the kids to try these delicious vegetables.


Jicama brings crunch and Greek yogurt supplies the tang in this mayo-free chicken salad. Sweet cherries are the vibrant finishing touch. Delicious in a sandwich, on a bed of greens, or shoveled with a spoon.

Did your mother make molded puddings like these back in the day? Mine did too. But Anna's updated version takes this comforting treat to a whole new level, using coconut milk and an infusion of fruity flavor. Topping it all off, of course: a wonderful cherry sauce.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Perfect Play Dough

I can't believe we don't have a play dough recipe on this site! I've tried countless variations on classic play dough and this is what I've worked out as my favorite. It takes a few minutes of stirring on the stove top, but that minimal effort yields a soft, pliable, non-toxic material that's easy to shape and mold.

I whipped up these two batches for a recent playdate: My preschooler asked for "Star Wars colors" so his friend could try the R2-D2 play set. They especially enjoyed manipulating the still-warm dough, which I scented with vanilla — my son's favorite.

Perfect Play Dough

This makes about 14 ounces of soft, easy-to-handle dough. Packaged well, it should last a good long time. I don't know how long, because my kids let some creations dry and mash the rest into oblivion. I've stored it well over a month with no problems.

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 cup salt
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
food coloring (optional)
essential oil or flavored extract for scent (optional)

Combine flour, cream of tartar, and salt in a small saucepan. In a measuring cup, combine water, oil, and food coloring or scent, if using. (I don't measure extracts added for scent — add a little, smell, and add a little more if it isn't strong enough.) Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Over medium heat, stir mixture continuously until the dough forms a ball. It will start to get clumpy first, and your arm will be tired of stirring, and you’ll think the recipe isn’t working. Keep at it a few minutes more and it will turn out just fine.

Turn dough out onto a silicone mat or cutting board. Let it cool a few minutes, then knead a few times until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In season: Spring peas and beans


Some of our favorite spring vegetables are greening up local markets now: peas, fava beans, and in some areas fresh garbanzos. Read on to find out how to make the most of fava beans with none of the fussy work, what to do with fresh garbanzos if you're lucky enough to find some, and a fun way. Hit up the links with each for the full post and recipe.

It was love at first sight when I spotted these beautiful little beans at my local market — but I had no idea what to do with them. Apparently I'm not the only one who needed to learn how to treat them right: Our post on pan-roasting fresh garbanzos is one of the most popular recipes on Cook Play Explore.


I avoided cooking with fava beans for years, hating the time-consuming process of peeling and shucking each individual bean. Discovering I could grill them and devour them whole was a game-changer. I used to yank up the soil-enriching fava bounty in my garden to make way for summer vegetables; now I'm dragging out the harvest, trying to eat as many as I can. Toss them on the grill, sprinkle with a bit of lemon zest, and savor! (For another way to make easy work of fava beans, check out Chow's how-to on using the freezer to make shelling easy.)


I adore this simple dip. I thought the bright green color might win over the kids, but they're fooled. This has peas! And spinach! No way! Ignore them. Make this. If they don't want any, more for you.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mom's Fruit Salad and an Open Letter to my Sons

Dear sons,

I really love to think that you're planning something awesome to surprise me on Mother's Day. Yes, Mother's Day is coming this Sunday!! And please, don't forget to remind Daddy, as he might be a little distracted with the final game of his soccer team in Rio.

But as you know I am a bit picky, and if you are thinking about bringing me breakfast in bed, here's a suggestion: a fruit salad. Yes, forget all the croissants, pies and pastries.

Please  choose some organic sweet strawberries, juicy apples, and that little orange called kumquat and one nice lemon from a neighbor's tree. On the side I really would appreciate if you can serve a little portion of Greek non-fat yogurt. Some coffee would be great. And just a slice of toast with some honey on it would give me happiness.

P.S. Don't forget to take the pajamas off the living room floor, brush your teeth and, if you want, put a flower in a vase, and design some crazy cards, before waking me up at 8 a.m. But if you don't have time, just read this little recipe ...

With my (everyday)  love,

Your Mom

Strawberries, Apples, and Kumquat Zest Fruit Salad

4 strawberries, sliced
1/2 Fuji apple
1 kumquat, sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cut all fruits with a plastic knife, to avoid cutting your little fingers. In a little bowl squeeze lemon and mix with the kumquat zest. If you don't know how to take the zest, watch this little tutorial. Sprinkle the zest and lemon juice over the other fruits.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

SpongeBob's House Mini Pineapple Muffin

First a confession: I've never watched an episode of that strange creature's show with its square pants, and my kids were never attracted to it.  I learned about its popularity while making this recipe with the kids at school at our weekly Cooking Club.

"Please, don't destroy Bob's house," said a very animated first-grader after seeing a whole pineapple being peeled and sliced, a novelty for some kids in real life, but very well known by its role in the show.

This is a very easygoing recipe that can be prepared with the kids and to be enjoyed by the whole family — including those who don't want to increase their cholesterol intake.

Kids — or venting grown ups — might have a blast "destroying" SpongeBob's home. That happens after the fresh and fragrant seasonal pineapples are cut into square shapes. The pieces are put in a sealed plastic bag. The bag, on a table, is then pounded by hand up until the pineapple squares are crushed. Like some kids said during the class: "Just make sure that Bob is not home before you start preparing this."

These muffins were a hit because of the moist texture and delicious taste, paired with a coconut milk smoothie mixed with pineapple juice, or a Coconut Frappé.

SpongeBob House Mini Muffin 
Fresh pineapples from Ecuador or Costa Rica that abound in the groceries stores are ideal for this, but if they're unavailable or hard to find you can always used canned ones in their own juice.

2 cups unbleached white whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup coconut
2-3 cups fresh pineapple, crushed manually or in a food processor
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup almond, soy, or coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
More dried coconut to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line mini-muffin pan (or regular muffin pan) with paper cups.

In a bowl whisk all liquid ingredients together and reserve.

In another bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. Add pineapple bits and coconut to the dry ingredients, mixing carefully with a wooden spoon to coat the bits with the flour mix. Add sugar to the mix.

Pour in the blended liquid ingredients and stir delicately until all ingredients are combined. Scoop the equivalent of 2/3 of a cup of batter into each muffin cup. Sprinkle tops with dried coconut. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the tops look golden. Remove from muffin pan to cool.


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