Chocolate Cranberry Braid (and the Science of Cranberry Sauce!)

Cranberry braids are really easy to make, and so delicious when you make homemade cranberry sauce, too! Plus, learn the science behind cranberry sauce and how to make it at home! It's part science experiment for kids and part delicious thanksgiving recipe!

I love cranberries. Something about that fall flavor just tastes awesome. That said, they can be pretty stinkin’ tart when you just taste one. The kiddo found out the hard way because when we cook together, he insists on tasting every single ingredient. It got me thinking about the science behind cranberries and a way we could learn by experimenting while we cook!

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Banana S’mores Pudding Cups with Homemade Agave Marshmallows

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SnackPackNaturals #CollectiveBias

I'm all about snacks that are a total throwback to my childhood, like pudding, but I like providing my son with a more natural option and better choices. These banana s'mores pudding cups are the perfect choice, and when topped with homemade marshmallows made with agave nectar, they're sure to please while still being a smarter choice for snacktime. #SnackPackNaturals [ad]

Summertime as a child meant a few things… plenty of time to play outside and roll in the mud, summer rainstorms, the choice to stay up later than usual, and of course… delicious snacks! One of my favorite choices as a child was a delicious chocolate pudding cup, and the best part of pudding cups was finding all kinds of things to mix in! That’s why when summer rolls around now, I make sure to have pudding cups on hand for my son to enjoy… and the mix-ins he needs to enjoy it! But as my family works to take a more naturally-based approach, it’s important for me to make smarter choices, which is why I’ve made the switch to natural pudding and tried my hand at making my own homemade marshmallows– both of which have NO corn syrup at all!

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Salted Caramel Cake

Raise your hand if you're stressed during the holidays. Now that everyone's hands are raised, let's skip the stress and enjoy this easy Salted Caramel Cake. If you can make a cake mix, you can make this amazing salted caramel cake that will WOW your holiday guests and shine on the dessert table, but also tastes amazingly rich and delightful. It's the perfect holiday cake!

Raise your hand if you’re already feeling stressed this holiday season. Now that all of our hands are up, let’s put them down and make this no-stress cake instead. Seriously– this salted caramel cake has all of the delicious salted caramel flavor you love, but it takes no effort. The holidays are busy, and holiday desserts shouldn’t add to that stress. This one is a show-stopper, and if you can make a cake mix, you can make this dessert.

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Inside Out Emotions Cupcakes (That Your Kids Can Make!)

These Inside Out cupcakes are so easy to make that kids of any age can do it! Using store-bought ingredients, it's perfect for little ones to make these treats inspired by Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and even Bing Bong from the Inside Out Movie!

We are still having a blast with Inside Out here, and since my son is a huge fan of being in the kitchen, we decided to make some awesome Inside Out Emotions cupcakes together! It’s so simple to do that almost any age can make Inside Out cupcakes of their very own, inspired by your favorite characters, like Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Fear, and even Bing Bong!

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Melted Ghost Chocolate Bark

Looking for a Halloween treat that is certain to make even the youngest guests giggle? These melted ghosts are delicious and easy to make-- plus, they're only 3 ingredients! They have a great sweet and salty flavor and will be a hit at your Halloween party, or are great just to enjoy as a snack at home. BOO!

Okay, so, I’m a huge fan of those little candy eyes that you can find in stores at Halloween. Is it just me, or do they make everything a little more adorable? There are so many great ways to use them, but I think I’ve just discovered my favorite– this melted ghost chocolate bark! It is SO easy to make that it will seriously take you only a couple of minutes of prep, and the whole family will love how adorable these spooky melted ghosts look! Plus, with these, you’ll be the hit of the Halloween party!

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Easy Cheesy (Dinner in 8 Minutes) Biscuit Pizzas

These easy cheesy mini pizzas take minutes to make, and have ingredients you probably already have in your refrigerator! That makes them the perfect candidate for an easy weeknight dinner or lunch plan! And kids love these pizzas so much!

Ugh. It was nearly 5:30, and I had forgotten to lay anything out for dinner. Again. It seems like in the summer, this happens more and more often as busy schedules take over, and Zach needed to eat before baseball practice. I asked what he wanted, and he said “Pizza!” Pizza? Usually that takes me all day because the crust has to rise from morning. How were we going to have pizza in time for practice? Easy. With biscuit dough.

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Summer Lunch Week: Grocery Store Games and Math to Get You Through the Store Without a Fight

Guess what? In case you missed last Friday’s post, today is the official start of Summer Lunch Week here at DigitalEraMom. What’s Summer Lunch Week? Well, it’s a week where I can try to make your life a little easier with ideas, printables, recipes, and more that can make summer lunches more fun, less expensive, and a little easier to prepare. Don’t forget to come back all week long– there may even be a giveaway coming, so stay tuned!


After the third supermarket temper tantrum, I realized I was about at my limit. I had tried everything, from bribery to that free grocery store cookie the bakery section usually hands out. I knew that, as Zach approached 37 pounds, there was no way carrying him kicking and screaming through the store was an option. I knew there had to be a better way.

Then, I realized as we were going through the store that he was very interested in the products on the shelves, particularly ones we bought regularly. I also started noticing that, while he was a great eater that preferred fresh produce to cookies 9 times out of 10, that the packaging grabbed him, and he was after something visual.

I wanted a way to distract him, help him have that visual, and still make healthy choices.

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Kids in the Kitchen: Cooking Delicious, Healthy Recipes With Little Helpers

From the earliest age Zach was able to hold a spoon, he has wanted to help in the kitchen. Obviously, I wanted to be sure that he wasn’t going to get hurt doing these tasks. Of course, no one was going to go handing my one year old a knife, but encouraging his natural interest in cooking was a must for me. So, I spent many long, hard hours researching how kids could have their kitchen interest engaged… safely.

Armed with suggestions from around the web, and a few realizations of my own, I started giving Zach ways to help in the kitchen, and he started showing me new ways he could succeed, also. So, below is my list of great ways that kids can help out in the kitchen, safely and in age-appropriate manners.

Two year olds can…

-Wipe a table. (Fun tip! Spray shaving cream on the table, then allow your child to draw pictures in the shaving cream with their finger and rub it around on the table. It’s a great sensory experience! Wipe the table, and their hands, thoroughly, and enjoy your clean table!)
-Tear lettuce for a big salad
-Stir a mix or batter with supervision
-Rinse food, like vegetables and fruits
-Add ingredients to a bowl, with guidance

Three year olds can do all of the above and…

-Squeeze citrus fruits for fruit juice or lemonade
-Assemble a pizza by spreading sauce, adding toppings and cheese
-Knead dough
-Peel fruits like oranges and bananas (sometimes needing help to start the orange peeling)
-Count food items
-Crack eggs with help
-Scoop food from one bowl to another

Four year olds can do everything above and also…

-Set the table
-Measure dry ingredients
-Make sandwiches (with guidance)
-Cut soft foods like bananas with a butter knife and a LOT of supervision

Five year olds, finally, can do everything above and…

-Measure liquids
-Separate eggs with an egg separator
-Zest fruits with supervision

But the really important thing to remember is that while kids help in the kitchen, they need guidance and help staying safe. For optimal child safety, give your child their own workspace! If they have a workspace of their own that’s away from knives, other sharp objects, hot stoves, and hot pans, they’re able to stay safe from harm while they cook and learn!

Always supervise children in the kitchen. Be sure to tell them all of the safety rules so they know that only grown-ups should use the stove, small appliances like toasters and blenders, and sharp items like knives.

Be sure everyone washes their hands and that you wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly to prevent the spread of disease!

Don’t mind the mess! Start out with a clean kitchen, but realize that if you’re cooking with a child, it’s going to take a little longer than doing it yourself, and there will probably be a larger cleanup. Invite your child to help you clean up any areas that are safe to help in, so they learn that cleanup is part of the cooking process. But don’t cry over spilled milk… recognize that the mess and longer time is just part of the learning process and part of the memories that you and your child will hold dear for years to come.

Want to keep your kids extra safe? I’ve designed a fun 8×10 printable safety tips poster. You can check out the preview below, then download it here.

If you’d like to test out these great safety tips by cooking with your little helper, you’re in luck, because today, my son Zach and I are sharing two favorite recipes from our kitchen that I know will be a hit in your kitchen, as well. First up, a delicious smoothie.

Mango Pineapple Fruit Smoothies

Zach is a huge fan of smoothies, so we always love finding a new smoothie recipe to try. We’ve bought bagged smoothie kits, shaker smoothies, and made a variety of fresh and frozen fruit and veggie smoothies, but this one hits the spot every time, especially during the summer.

You’ll need 1/2 a cup diced mango (about one large mango), 1/2 cup diced pineapple (about 1/4 a whole pineapple), 1 Tablespoon honey, 1 container of vanilla yogurt (6-8 ounces), and 1/2 cup orange or mango juice. We had mango on hand, so that’s what we used.

Parents, go ahead and pre-slice the mango chunks into small bite-sized pieces. If you have an older child, they may be able to help with this part with supervision, but you’ll still likely want to cut the meat off of the harder pit so they don’t slip and cut themselves.

Pre-slice the pineapple, as well, also into bite sized pieces. Again, an older child may be able to help with this step with supervision, but use your best judgement about what your child can handle, and make sure they’re experienced in handling a knife.

You may also want to take this time to pre-measure the juice and honey, depending on your child’s age. Because Zach will only be 3 in July and is still learning in the kitchen, I chose to measure them in advance.

Invite your little chef to pour the ingredients into the blender. Make sure you remind your child to be mindful of the sharp parts inside the blender, and remind them to never stick their hands inside.

Blend until smooth, then enjoy!

This makes approximately 6 (1/2 cup) smoothie servings!

While sipping your smoothie, talk to your child about their favorite part of making this recipe, and ask them what sort of fruit they think might go well in a future smoothie! You may be starting a delicious and healthy smoothie addiction in your child!

Tangy Fruit Dip

My son is a huge fan of fruit. He also loves yogurt. So what’s the best way to pair the two? With a delicious yogurt-based fruit dip, of course! Because trust me, my son can’t eat any food from fish sticks to fries, without wanting to “dip it!” and I wanted to re-create that same experience with a healthier, lighter fare that makes a great afternoon snack or a delicious side dish or party food.

You’ll need a container of vanilla yogurt (6-8 ounces), two teaspoons of honey, and 3-4 key limes (or 1 lime*), and the fruit your child likes best to dip. We personally chose watermelon, but this fruit dip is great with strawberries, plums, pineapple, and more!

I started by slicing my watermelon so it would be ready to eat as soon as Zach finished making the dip. To easily slice a melon into fry-like sticks, cut off each end of the melon, then shave the sides off using the knife. Finish by cutting the watermelon into slices, and those slices into sticks. Quick and easy!

Next, juice 3-4 key limes (or 1 lime*). Make sure you strain out the seeds! An older child could help you with this task, but since Zach is a bit younger, I went ahead and did it myself. You can also zest the limes or key limes to use as a garnish, if you’d like.

Have your child combine a container of yogurt and two teaspoons of honey.

Then, stir in the lime juice.

Remember, like Chef Gordon Ramsay says, all good chefs taste as they cook! As long as there are no raw eggs or raw meat, foods are generally safe to taste, and this is a great learning opportunity.

Finally, serve! If you’re photographing your food first, like I did to share with you guys, be careful that a sneaky little chef doesn’t come in and steal the food props! You might have a cheeky grin in store for you if that happens.

But in the end, it’s a delicious way to add a little protein from the yogurt into a great snack for fruit-loving kids!

*As you might have noticed at your local grocery store, typical lime prices have skyrocketed! Limes that usually cost around $0.39 cents are priced at $1.99 currently. Why? Well, a lot of reasons… first, there was a drought that reduced the lime quantities this year during the growing season. Then, heavy rains knocked blossoms off of the trees which meant even fewer limes grew. Because they became more rare, the Mexican Drug Cartels started seizing lime shipments and making farmers pay large sums. The farmers had no choice, and ended up having to pass these higher costs onto their distributors and customers. Some lime growers even stopped growing the plants out of fear of the cartels. So that’s why there are fewer limes and they’re a higher price. You can definitely use key limes in the recipe, which are grown in the USA and a bit cheaper at the moment. You could also wait a few weeks until the limes grown in California are ripe and ready to be shipped across the county, lowering prices. Or, you can use an artificial lime juice if you prefer. In fact, even lemons would work in the recipe.

Now, if you’d like to remember these delicious and easy recipes, don’t forget to download my printable recipe cards here. They’ll print on an 8.5×11 sheet and can be cut into 4×6 cards to fit into your recipe card box!

 

Make sure you come back next Monday through Friday, as every day I’ll be sharing more tips, recipes, and printables to make summer meals easier, more affordable, and more fun for your family. There may even be a giveaway in store, so stay tuned!

Happy Cooking!

 

Asian Dipped Almond Cookies

I absolutely love Chinese New Year. It’s such a fun holiday filled with tradition and excitement, and it’s just so exciting. And the year of the Horse this year? That’s really exciting. Today begins a very important celebration in the Chinese calendar… so important that it’s the longest holiday celebrated in their year. Because the Chinese calendar is based on the lunar cycle, the month starts on the darkest day of the lunar month (the first of the lunar month) and continuing until the brightest night, often the 15th day of the lunar month.

This recipe is so easy, that it is perfect for children to bake with supervision! This post will also give you a chance to brush up on some Chinese New Year and Fortune Cookie facts, so you can learn more about these cookies, and New Year tradition, while you bake together!

While fortune cookies aren’t inherently Chinese, they ARE delicious, and I had to try my hand at creating an Asian-inspired cookie that tastes very similar to a fortune cookie, complete with fortune printables for you!

The first step to these cookies is to download the printable found at the bottom of this post, and cut apart the fortunes. Trust me, you don’t want to start the cookies without doing this step, or they’ll break when you try to roll them, as they’ll have cooled too much. It’s good to do this step first.

So, with this being the year of the horse, it’s important to realize that those born in the year of the horse are considered to be cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, talented, witty, and good with their hands.

As a dragon, I’m enthusiastic, quick-witted, and sometimes a little hot-headed. But I inspire confidence, and that’s a good thing. Plus, when life knocks me down, the Chinese Zodiac says I’m dauntless and get right back up. I think Dragon suits me well!

Gather your ingredients next. You’ll also want to add white chocolate chips and sprinkles if you plan to dip them, as pictured! They’re tasty undipped, too, but they’re so pretty dipped! To be a little clearer, you’ll want 2 egg whites, 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract (a little goes a long way!), 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, a generous pinch of salt, and the white chocolate and sprinkles.

Rembrandt, Harrison Ford, Aretha Franklin, Chopin, and President Theodore Roosevelt are all Horses according to Chinese Zodiac, so if you’re a horse, you’re in good company.

Start by beating the egg whites and almond extract until they’re foamy, but NOT stiff. They’ll look nice and frothy, as shown.

At Chinese New Year celebrations, people don red clothing, decorate the place with poems on red paper, and red envelopes are given to children, containing lucky money! Red is significant because it represents fire, and fire is a great way to drive away bad luck! For the same bad luck hates fire reason, fireworks are shot off in beautiful displays.

In a separate bowl, you can sift your flour, sugar, and salt.

While fortune cookies aren’t Chinese, they actually might not be Chinese-American, either. Invented in California, there’s a lot of debate about how they got their start. Today, though, they’re definitely equated with Chinese food in most Americans’ minds, just like Chop Suey (which is also not Chinese).

Slowly mix your flour mixture into your egg mixture to create a cookie batter.

A possible source of the fortune cookie is David Jung. He immigrated from China and opened a restaurant in LA. He saw poor walking the streets and, in 1918, was rumored to hand out the cookies free to give them something to eat, each containing inspirational Bible scripture, written for the restaurant owner by a minister.

Drop tablespoonfuls of the cookie batter far apart on a greased cookie sheet. Your oven should be preheated to 400.

Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese gardener living in San Francisco, is another possible source of the fortune cookie. He designed the famous tea garden in Golden Gate Park; he was fired from his gardening job when an anti-Japanese mayor took office, but later, a different mayor reinstated him! As a thank you, he decided to bake cookies with thank you notes inside, passing them out in the Japanese Tea Garden in 1914. They became so popular that they were a regular staple of the tea garden, and were even shown off at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, a World Fair in San Francisco in 1915.

Both San Francisco and Los Angeles claim the cookie, and even historical review courts can’t agree.

Spray a spoon with cooking spray and use it to spread the cookies into a wafer-thin layer. It’ll make them have a nice crispy crunch when cooked!

Originally made by hand using chopsticks, today’s fortune cookies are made by machine. For good reason, too– the largest manufacturer of fortune cookies ship out over 60 million cookies every month. That’s nearly 2 million each day!

This is when you have to work quickly, and because the cookies are SO hot, it’s a job best for adults. As soon as you pull the pan from the oven, place a fortune on it and roll the cookie up. It will be VERY hot, I’ll say again.

If you let the cookies wait more than about 45 seconds, they’ll start to crack when rolled– that’s why you need to cook only 3-4 to a pan.

If you place the folded cookies next to each other, they’ll keep each other from unwrapping themselves until they cool off a bit.

From here, you’ll want to melt white chocolate and dip the ends in the chocolate to create the dipped look shown in the first image. I also chose to sprinkle some adorable sprinkles on while the chocolate was wet.

If you’re concerned about the cookies being too hot for you to comfortably roll, are cooking with very young kids, or just don’t want to risk breaking any, you can always leave them flat. I packaged mine up a few to a bag, with a fortune in the bag! Same flavor, same fortune, less rolling.

You’ll get a dozen cookies out of the recipe! And you can fight it out amongst yourselves whether the cookies are from LA or San Francisco, but either way, no one will be arguing that the flavor is amazing!

You can download my fortune printable here!

 

Counting calories this Chinese New Year? These cookies clock in at only 97 calories per dipped cookie!

 

Do you know your Chinese Zodiac sign? Let me know in the comments below!

Strawberries and Cream Miracle Cookies

These cookies are nothing short of miraculous. Well, I mean, look at them. They look like your standard, very delicious, absolutely cute cookies.

But, they’re just a handful of ingredients, and they take almost no time at all. These are the kind of cookies you make when you say “I have to have cookies! Like now!” Or the kind of cookies you say “Oh! Crud! The school bake sale is today and I forgot to bake something!” But, they’re also the kind of cookies you make when you need something delicious, time-pressed or no, the kind of cookies that taste so much harder than they are. And that’s what’s miraculous, and also very, very dangerous about them.

For the base cookie, you just need a box of cake mix, a carton of whipped topping, and an egg. You’ll also need powdered sugar to roll the cookies in before baking. I chose to add in some white chocolate chips for that whole “and cream” bit. Strawberry is a fun, and unexpected, cookie flavor for Valentine’s day. While this cookie could easily be made with chocolate, or with red velvet, you’ll love the flavor of a strawberries and cream cookie amidst scores of chocolate choices in the Valentine’s season.

This is where things get almost stupidly easy. You toss your cake mix, your Cool Whip, and your egg into a bowl, and mix. It’ll be an extra thick cookie batter.

Like very thick! At this point, fold in your white chocolate chips. Then, roll the batter into balls.

Roll those balls in powdered sugar. Relish in the fact that you’re not having to take a picture one handed of this step– it’s tricky!

Place the balls several inches apart on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes. Let them cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer them to a cooling rack.

Waiting for them to cook is hard. You may be surrounded by people with their mouth open like little birds, just waiting for a taste of warm cookie, fresh from the oven.

Once cooled, you’re able to enjoy them! They’ve got a really great flavor, and they’re so easy, anyone could make them. The strawberries and cream is unique and exciting, something new!

They’ll be gone quickly! I promise!

 

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Counting calories this V-Day? There are only 140 Calories per cookie, and they’re way more satisfying than a hundred calorie pack! Calorie counts may vary.

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Trying a variation on these cookies? Let me know how they turn out in the comments below!