Peanut Butter and Jelly Quesadillas

pbj quesadilla

For ten years, I thought I didn’t like peanut butter and jelly.  It’s true. One day in sixth grade, I declared that it was the worst combination ever and didn’t eat it for TEN YEARS.  I liked peanut butter.  I liked jelly.  But I did not like them touching. Up until two weeks ago, I had unknowingly deprived myself of the deliciousness that is the combination of PB&J. Sad but true.

This all changed when I was making a peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat for a little girl I babysit for.  She told me she didn’t want the crust, so I cut the crusts off of her sandwich and promptly ate them.  There was peanut butter on them.  There was strawberry jelly on them. They were touching. I was amazed at the deliciousness of it all.  It turns out that PB&J is not the worst combination ever.  It’s one of the best! (This is probably not news to you…most people are normal!)

My cousin Erin recently suggested that since I have two cousins with one-year-olds (Hi Erin and Liam, Amber and Savannah!!), I should probably post some kids recipes.  GREAT idea, since I’ve been cooking for kids for the past 4+ years.  First on the list are these peanut butter and jelly quesadillas.

This recipe is a great alternative to the classic PB&J, and the fact that you can call it a quesadilla adds a novelty factor – kids think it’s the coolest thing!  This is especially good for school lunch, because as it sits, the tortilla gets softer and infused with the peanut butter and jelly…yumm.

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Fig, Brie, and Spinach Sandwiches

fig brie spinach close up

Do you ever feel fancy?  Patent leather Mary Janes when you’re three, tea parties in second grade, senior prom, dinner date in the big city…that kind of fancy.

Spinach is fancy because Popeye eats it, and he’s a cute sailor.  Brie is fancy because it’s creamy and rich.  Figs are fancy because they look like jewels when you slice them open (!!).  This little sandwich made me feel fancy, even as I ate it while driving the three kids I nanny for around in the minivan after soccer camp (I kid you not – I am a soccer mom in training!).

The sad thing about fancy Figs is that not many Americans have ever had fresh ones! This is funny, because Fig Newtons seem to be a beloved snack.  I have a secret: I had my first Fig Newton exactly one week ago.  For most people I know, the opposite is true – they’ve never, ever tried a fresh fig, but have been eating Fig Newtons their whole lives!

Give yourself a little dare this week. Visit your farmer’s market, or Trader Joe’s, and pick up some figs.  They are delicious alone, with cheese, quartered on salads, or drizzled with honey. If you’re feeling extra-brave, leave me a comment with your thoughts!  I dare you – let me know what makes you feel fancy.

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Spinach Ricotta Baked Potato

spinach ricotta potatoFor my fifth birthday, I got this really great cookbook: Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual.  It came with bright colored plastic measuring spoons (which are still among my family’s utensil collection today), which was awesome, and it is filled with great recipes and great illustrations.  Throughout my childhood, I poured over this cookbook.  I loved it.  Actually, why am I using past tense?  Let’s be honest: I still have it, and I still love it.

So. Put-back potatoes, anyone?  I’ve been a huge fan since I first made one around the time I got this cookbook.  These days, I usually go for broccoli and cheddar put-backs – a classic combo, and the broccoli adds good fiber.

This particular recipe was born one evening when I felt like a good ole put-back.  The problem: no one had been shopping in a while (a common problem in these here parts), and the broccoli I had in the fridge was on the yellow side (whoops).

I took stock of what we did have.  Ricotta?  Hmmm.  Spinach?  Do-able. Another classic combo, but will it work in a baked potato?

Oh yes, I found.  Quite well.  Read on for my grown-up recreation of a childhood favorite.

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Pesto Pasta with Peas and Ricotta Salata

Pesto pasta with peas and ricotta salata

I recently bought a bit of ricotta salata cheese at Di Raimondo’s Italian Market, a great local cheese shop located in Paso Robles, California.  Ricotta salata has the same basis as the ricotta you are probably thinking of – the delicious soft cheese that is used in lasagna – but ricotta salata is salted and aged, and it has a texture similar to feta.  Personally, ricotta salata doesn’t do anything for me on its own…BUT. In pastas and salads, it is amazing.  Inspired by this recipe from The Kitchn, I knew just what to do with it.

Pasta is something that can get very unhealthy, very easily.  In the past few years I have come to master the art of keeping pasta low-cal and healthy.

How to Keep Pasta Healthy:

1. What you get in a restaurant is not – I repeat not! – a normal serving size. Most pasta dishes probably should feed like six people.  A good tip for dining out is to eat half and get the rest to go.  This is better for the waistline and the bank account, because a large entree can make a couple more meals!  Yess.

2. When cooking pasta at home, a typical serving size is two ounces, which is more than it sounds like!  Pay attention to nutrition labels to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.

3. Add veggies! This is a very low-cal way to eat a lot more, bulk-wise, and it gets some healthy nutrients and fiber in there, too, so your body will thank you and you’ll stay fuller longer.

4. Fat isn’t bad if it is healthy fat.  A tablespoon of olive oil adds flavor, good-for-you fat, and (bonus!) fat helps you stay fuller, longer!  You can sautee garlic in olive oil, use it in pesto, add it to flavor tomato or other sauce, and even just have plain pasta and olive oil with a bit of Parmesan.  Yum!

5. Not all pasta is created equal. For a non-special occasions, I use Barilla Plus Pasta – it is made with legumes, egg whites, and whole grains, so it has more protein and fiber than regular pasta…so it’s not as carb-y and the taste isn’t much different.  I wish it came in a larger variety of shapes, but I’ll take what I can get.

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