RECIPE: Salted Pistachio Dried Cherry Chocolate Bark

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It's tricky, sometimes, to come up with a decadent treat that may actually be on the healthy side. If you substitute sugar with some natural sweeteners like Stevia or Monkfruit, and stick with whole foods and grains in your sweet treats, you can indulge with less guilt.

Chocolate bark has been a staple in our house for a while. You can add various mix ins to liven things up-like nuts, fruits, zests and spices, and we use monkfruit sweetener to keep the sugar down. This concoction received big accolades at work. I think it was all gone by lunch time.

One watch out when working with chocolate, liquids in melted chocolate seizes it up. This is why I have vanilla powder in this recipe, versus extract. The first time I made this I threw extract in without thinking and realized a second right after I added it, it was a mistake, complete with face palm. I knew better, but rushing is never a good idea in the kitchen.

It still worked and it tasted fine, but with a grainier texture and not the hard "snap" I like in my chocolate candy. It's good to invest in some vanilla powder anyway, for your candy making excursions. If you skip the vanilla, they will be just as tasty. Keep your bark in an airtight container to much on for that chocolate craving throughout the week.


Salted Pistachio Dried Cherry Chocolate Bark

Ingredients

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla powder
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1/2 cup toasted, hulled and chopped pistachios (salted or unsalted, up to you)
Flaky sea salt
1 Tbsp. of stevia or Monkfruit sweetener
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries

parchment paper

Directions



Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roughly break up the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave it at 50% power at 30 second intervals until melted, stirring occasionally (if you don't have a microwave use a double boiler).

Stir in the vanilla, zest, cherries and half the nuts. Pour onto the parchment and spread into a flat, even layer. Sprinkle top with remaining nuts and sea salt. (I used about a teaspoon, but salt to your taste.)



Let chocolate cool until set. I set mine in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Once chocolate is set, break up into chunks with your hands and store.



MOTHER'S DAY: Daddy and Kids Easy Brunch, Pecan Apple Pie French Toast, Strawberry Fruit Salad and Topperfino Coffee Discs

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This is a shout out to all the dads out there. This is your PSA blog post, Mother's Day is May 8th!

I repeat, Mother's Day is May 8th. Go on. Write it down. Get a highlighter. Imprint it in your brain. Got it? Good!

So now, what to do, right?
If you have no idea what to get the mom who has everything, I have some advice with a couple of easy brunch recipes you and the kids can do together to make Mom's wake up call even sweeter. You can also get a little help from my friends at Topperfino! They make these chic chocolate coffee discs with designs and sayings to make mom's cup of coffee super special. It's like a drinkable Mother's Day card.

But first, my advice to treat the mom in your life to brunch. She gets up every morning, makes the coffee and makes sure all her charges are out the door dressed, clean and fed. She rarely gets a break in the morning. Give her one. It's inexpensive and means the world to her. The idea of languishing in bed an extra 30 minutes, without having to clean the coffee pot to make her own coffee sounds like heaven. Really. Skip the jewelry. It's the little things.

Not great in the kitchen? No problem. I developed these recipes just for you! This baked french toast is very easy. If you know how to cut bread, use a whisk and turn on the oven, you got this. I added a simple fruit salad for good measure. And for an added special touch, a foamed coffee drink topped with a Topperfino Happy Mother's Day chocolate disc placed where she sits just sets the tone for the rest of the day. These chocolate discs come in various designs, but the Mother's Day one is the design you want! These discs have a subtle sweetness that subtly melts as mom sips her coffee, getting a layer of chocolate with her coffee. It's a delicious treat.


Now to the recipes. What's great about baked french toast is that you prep it the night before and let it soak. The next morning, put it in the oven and bake it for an hour, That gives you time to round up the kids, have them make cards and set the table, whip up the fruit salad and make the foamed coffee just before serving.

Once you treat mom to her brunch, my final piece of advice is to give her a few hours to herself. Take the kids to a movie and let her do whatever she wants, undisturbed. If she wants to soak in the tun until she's a prune while no one is banging on the bathroom door trying to get in or talk to her, then let her. Reading uninterrupted? Gardening uninterrupted? Napping uninterrupted? Crafting uninterrupted? These are all treasured gifts that costs nothing. Give her a couple hours to herself, and she will be ever so grateful. Trust me.

Pecan Apple Pie French Toast

Ingredients:

1 13 oz. loaf french bread, cut into large chunks
1 can apple pie filling with more fruit than syrup, like Duncan Hines
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
3 cups whole milk
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar

Directions:





Preheat oven to 200˚. Lay the chunks on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, to dry out the bread. Let cool completely before using. You can also keep the bread out for a day to dry out.
Spray a 13 x 9 baking pan with non stick cooking spray. Lay half the bread chunks in a layer on the pan.



Spread all the apple pie filling along the layer of bread. Sprinkle with half the chopped pecans. Lay the rest of the bread chunks over the apple filling. 




Now in a medium bowl, whisk the milk with the eggs and the spices. Pour gently over the bread mixture. Using a the back of a spatula, push the bread flat to soak up the egg mixture and to flatten the top.

Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight in the refrigerator. An hour and a half before serving, pull the pan out and uncover. Preheat oven to 350˚. While oven heats, let the pan warm up a little on the stove top at room temperature. Bake for about an hour, or until the top (and middle) is puffy and evenly golden, and bounces back when touched. Let cool and set for about 20 minutes then serve with maple syrup or honey.




Strawberry Fruit Salad

Ingredients
2 pints strawberries, hulled, cleaned and sliced.
2 Tbsp. floral honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract
dash of salt

Directions

Mix together and let macerate for 10 minutes before serving. You can serve this as is or with some vanilla yogurt and granola.





















Topperfino and Coffee, quick how-to!




First foam milk gently in a mug. For a handy video, check this out.



Next, put espresso grounds (if making a cappuccino) in your maker and make 2 shots of espresso. You can also splash regular American coffee in your foamed milk.


Finally, gently place a Topperfino chocolate disc on top of the milk, wait 20-30 seconds until the chocolate begins to soften and melt to drink!

Please note: Topperfino chocolate discs were provided by Topperfino. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Topperfino are completely my own. Thanks!

RECIPE: Herbed Pull Apart Bread

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Sometimes we want a fresh baked bread for a salad or soup for dinner, but fresh baked bread seems like a daunting task. Herbed fresh baked bread doesn't always need to be a laborious task, thanks to premade refrigerated bread dough. With a little love and 30 minutes, you can enhance store bought dough into something savory and special, like a pull apart loaf. This technique is really fun and easy, and you can spread whatever herbs or savory additions on the squares for whatever flavor profile you are looking for. You can even do a sweet version too, with cinnamon and sugar. It's fun to get creative.

A technique to do this is to turn the bread pan on it's side, and lay the squares like a tower in the pan, one on top of each other. Then turn the pan with the dough gently right side up, and fluff and spread out the dough to fill the pan. It works out great! Play with different fillings, and see what your family likes!


Herbed Pull Apart Bread 


Ingredients:


4 tablespoons of butter, softened 
1 tablespoon of dried chives 
1 teaspoon of dried basil 
1 tablespoon of dried parsley 
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes 
1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt 
fresh ground pepper 
1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder 
one package of refrigerated French bread dough 
3 tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling on top

Directions:


Roll out refrigerated bread dough and using a rolling pin if needed, roll out to a 12" x 12" square. Using a pastry cutter cut out into 12 even squares, 3"w x 3"h. 



In a small bowl, mix all the herbs and spices into the softened butter until well mixed. With a knife, spread the herb butter on top of each of the squares. Sprinkle each square with the Parmesan cheese. 


In a bread pan, butter or spray with nonstick cooking spray so that the bread does not stick.


Gently stack the bread dough, one on top of the other, inside bread pan. Once all the squares are in the pan, sprinkle with extra cheese on top. Loosen up the bread dough lightly with your fingers. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour or two.


Preheat oven to 325˚ if using a dark bread pan. Bake at 350˚ if using a lighter bread pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until top is golden. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then run a knife around the sides. Pull the bread out and place on a platter. Let your guests pull apart the dough and eat it.

RECIPE: Brown Rice and Turkey Kielbasa Italian Skillet

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All one skillet meals are a Godsend for busy weeknights, and we have had our fair share of busy days lately as the school year is beginning to ramp up towards the end. End of year fundraisers, school tests, girl scout final badge work, it all seems to be in a race to the finish line. Dinners need to be easy, just like this one skillet kielbasa pilaf. Add instant rice and pre-cut frozen broccoli and you have a super-easy-magic meal. I like using the instant brown rice as well as using turkey smoked sausage to bring in a healthier twist. Your family won't even notice that it's healthier. Cooking the instant rice in chicken broth adds deeper flavor in a lighter way, too. 

So keep on, gerbil wheel! Dinner is covered.

Brown Rice and Turkey Kielbasa Italian Skillet

Ingredients:


6 to 8 ounces of frozen broccoli florets, thawed 
2 cups of instant brown rice prepared according to directions with 1 3/4 cups of chicken broth 
2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese 
1 package of turkey kielbasa, sliced 1/4"-1/2" thick
3 teaspoons of minced garlic 
2 tablespoons of olive oil 
1 large red pepper, cored and thinly sliced 
1 small onion, chopped 
1/2 cup of chicken broth
1/2 cup of tomato sauce 
1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese 

Directions:








In a large skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat and sauté the garlic and the onion until softened. Next, stir in the sausage and cook until beginning to brown. Then add the peppers and the broccoli. Cook until broccoli is beginning to soften, about 6-8 minutes. Then add the tomato sauce and the chicken broth and stir well.




Simmer for 10 minutes until the veggies are tender and the liquid has been absorbed. and thick next stir in the cooked rice and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and mix. 

Finally add the mozzarella cheese on top and serve warm.
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