Striped Jell-O

This is a fun dessert made with three layers of Jell-O, one of them creamy, and you can change the colors and flavors any way you like. I found this on a subreddit for old recipes, where the user said an Italian grandma gave him the recipe with the colors of the Italian flag. That’s how I made it the first time. You’ll see I’ve used different colors this time — grape and cherry — as picked by my children!

Because you have to wait several hours between layers to allow them to set, you shouldn’t plan to serve this the same day you make it. Cut through it gently with a sharp knife and lift out the pieces with a sharp spatula — otherwise you’ll lose part of the bottom layer.

Makes 16 pieces.

2 large (6-oz.) boxes of Jell-O, any flavor
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 envelopes gelatin dissolved in 1/2 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla

Dissolve the first box of Jell-O in 2 cups boiling water. Pour into a 13×9-inch pan and let set in refrigerator for several hours.

Boil heavy cream, sour cream, sugar, gelatin, and vanilla. Allow to cool and pour over first layer. Let set in refrigerator for several hours.

Dissolve the second box of Jell-O in 2 cups boiling water. Let cool and pour over the second layer. Let set in refrigerator, then cut and enjoy.

Banana Berry Oatmeal

Easy to make, yummy, and healthy. This will make a big single bowl of oatmeal that is filling and fueling for the morning. And it’s dairy-free with no milk in the recipe.

1 banana
1/3 cup quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup water
Dash of cinnamon
Handful of frozen mixed berries

In your breakfast bowl, mash the banana well with a fork. Add the oats and water and mix, then stir in the cinnamon and berries. Microwave until the berries are warm, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

For those on WW, this is 3 on Blue.

Halloween Cupcakes

Halloween is a great holiday for fun treats and desserts, with so many creative possibilities. (I made these Eyeball Cupcakes a few years ago.) This year, I decided to make a whole bunch of Halloween cupcakes all at once — I’ve had pictures of these in my binder for a long time and I just wanted to finally make them. Here are the designs and instructions. Note: You may find it easiest to use a cake mix for the cupcakes, because the decorations are the focus. Chocolate cupcakes made from a devil’s food cake mix hold up well.

MUMMY CUPCAKES

You will need:
Chocolate cupcakes
White fondant (use a gourmet brand for the best taste)
Something for the eyes (I used mini chocolate morsels. Mini brown M&Ms would be good, or you could use candy eyeballs.)

Roll out the fondant until about 1/8 thick. Best to do this on a surface covered in confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar). Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut thin ribbons, then lay pieces of the ribbon across the cupcake. Attach the eyes. They won’t stick very well on their own, so use a dab of water or even frosting to fix them in place.

PUMPKIN CUPCAKES

You will need:
Vanilla cupcakes
Buttercream frosting
Orange food coloring
Orange sanding sugar
Pretzel sticks

After coloring the frosting, spread a nicely shaped mound of it on top of the cupcake. Cover with sanding sugar and press it lightly so it adheres. With the tip of a knife, draw lines extending from the center. Insert a pretzel stick into the middle.

WITCHES’ CAULDRONS

You will need:
Chocolate cupcakes
Chocolate frosting
Vanilla pudding
Green food coloring
A mix of Halloween sprinkles
Pretzel sticks

Scoop out a portion in the middle of each cupcake. Don’t go too far down. Put the chocolate frosting around the hole and put a dab of it at the bottom of the hole (to help keep the pudding in place).

Make the vanilla pudding and color it green. Scoop it into the cupcake holes, then top with sprinkles. Insert a pretzel stick at an angle into the pudding. (If you’re not going to eat these right away, insert the pretzel sticks shortly before serving — otherwise they will get soggy.)

WHITE GHOST CUPCAKES

You will need:
Chocolate cupcakes
Chocolate frosting
White chocolate
Mini chocolate morsels

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Snip off a tiny corner of a plastic sandwich bag.

Melt white chocolate in the microwave (remove it as soon as it’s melted, or it will become too thick). Spoon it into the sandwich bag and pipe the outline of a ghost on the parchment, making one corner of the bottom of the ghost very long and narrow — this is what you will use to insert into the cupcakes. Fill in the outline with chocolate and smooth it out ever so gently with your finger or a knife. Quickly place two morsels on for eyes, then refrigerate until solid. Insert into frosted cupcakes.

M&M MONSTERS

You will need:
Any kind of cupcakes
Buttercream frosting
A variety of food coloring — try green, purple, and orange
Brown, green, and orange M&Ms
Candy eyeballs

Color the frosting in a variety of colors and spread on the cupcakes. Decorate with M&Ms and candy eyeballs. You can see I did random designs as well as faces.

Note: You should store these at room temperature or make them just before serving, as the M&Ms will get a frosty look after spending time in the refrigerator.

The main thing with all of these cupcakes is to HAVE FUN and be creative.

Happy Halloween!

Lemon Blueberry Frozen Yogurt Sandwiches

These are very easy to make and even easier to devour. Just stir everything in a small bowl and freeze overnight, then cut into bars, sandwiched between graham crackers. With the fat-free yogurt and large dose of fruit, these could be a healthy snack, a healthy dessert, or even a treat at breakfast. You can skip the graham crackers and eat the bars on their own, too — though your fingers will get cold and you won’t get the fun crunch of the crackers.

I adapted the recipe from this one at WW. I used a larger pan, because it made for thinner pieces that were easier to bite into. I added the graham crackers on a whim.

Makes 6 sandwiches

1 lemon
1 cup fat-free vanilla yogurt (I have used both Greek yogurt and a mixture of Greek with regular yogurt)
1 Tbsp. agave syrup
1 cup fresh blueberries
13-14 graham cracker rectangles

Line an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper that hangs off the sides, so you can easily lift the yogurt out later.

Zest and juice the lemon. You need 1/2 tsp. of zest and 1/2 tsp. of juice. Mix the zest and juice into the yogurt with the agave syrup and blueberries.

Crush 1-2 graham cracker rectangles (amount depends on your preference). Spread half the crumbs onto the parchment, then spread the yogurt mixture evenly on top. Scatter the rest of the crumbs over the yogurt, pressing down gently, if possible, to make sure it all adheres.

Freeze overnight. When ready, lift it out of the pan and cut into six bars. Sandwich each bar between two graham cracker rectangles. Enjoy.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

The bit of crunch from the cucumbers and pine nuts combines with the flavorful fresh ingredients to make a wonderful salad or side dish. Definitely use fresh lemon juice and herbs — there is no substitute in this dish. The quinoa provides protein and a nice texture.

I don’t remember where I got this recipe, but it must have been while living in London because of the metric measurements. The equivalents are listed below.

Serves 4 as a main course salad; 6 as a side dish

250g (8 3/4 oz.) dried quinoa
3 red tomatoes, chopped
1 small cucumber, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Handful of pine nuts or roughly chopped walnuts
Bunch of mint, chopped
Bunch of parsley, chopped
Lots of salt and pepper
Sprinkling of cinnamon

Put quinoa in a pot with 500 ml (2 cups) water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed.

Mix the quinoa with the rest of the ingredients, then place in the refrigerator. Serve cold.

Black Bean Salad with Ginger Tamarind Dressing

A very easy, healthy, and filling salad full of flavor. This keeps well in the fridge, so it’s perfect for lunch over several days. It would also be nice as a side dish at a cookout or pot luck.

3 15-oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup corn
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
1 Tbsp rice wine (mirin)
1 Tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp. tamarind paste
1 tsp. sesame oil

In a large bowl, mix the beans, celery, corn, and shallot. Put the rest of the ingredients in a small jar and shake until blended. Pour over the beans, mix, and serve.

More on tamarind paste:
Tamarind paste comes from the fruit of the tamarind tree and has a subtle, citrusy, sour flavor. It is used around the world but is especially popular in Asian cooking. I use it in this recipe for Malaysian Rendang Curry.

The consistency of tamarind paste can vary widely depending on the brand. Some are runny and others are thick (my curry recipe actually calls for tamarind “pulp,” which simply means a thick tamarind paste). Don’t worry too much about the consistency, however — if it’s too thick, you can always thin it in water; too thin, and you can just use more.

In a recipe like the black bean salad, the amounts are entirely up to you. Change the amounts or even the ingredients based on what you have or can find.

Tamarind paste is available at Asian grocery stores and farmer’s markets, online, and even in the international section of some grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can substitute lime juice mixed with brown sugar.

Simple Bruschetta

A wonderful summer appetizer or side dish that really only requires red, flavorsome tomatoes, garlic, and a good-quality rustic Italian bread or French baguette.

The slices should be toasted first, whether in the toaster or on the grill, so the juice of the tomatoes can sink in and the bread will hold up. Rub the toast with a cut clove of garlic or the cut side of a tomato before putting the mixture on top.

You’ll find many variations online, and more classic versions may include capers, grated Pecorino or Parmesan, olives, or even prosciutto. Add whatever you like, whatever you have fresh. This basic version is delicious on its own.

4-6 servings

4 ripe medium red tomatoes, diced
3 garlic cloves — one cut in half to rub on the toasts, the other two minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil, chopped, in any amount (start with a few sprigs if you’re not sure)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (be liberal!)
1 loaf of Italian bread or French baguette, sliced and toasted just until golden

Toss all ingredients except the cut garlic clove and the bread in a bowl and let sit at room temperature for at least half an hour. Rub the toast with the cut clove of garlic (or a cut tomato, if you have some left over). Spoon the mixture on top and serve immediately.

Peanut Brittle

This recipe comes from a community cookbook published in Atlanta in 1985. It’s the kind of cookbook bound with plastic rings and with the names of the people who submitted the recipes below each one. I love these kinds of cookbooks — they give a peek into people’s kitchens and the recipes they love to make. This particular cookbook is where I got my candied pecan recipe, which I make during the holidays, and it’s also the source for this peanut brittle.

You do need a candy thermometer. I tried making it without one, but it was a failure — it took too long and I got impatient, and the result was bendy and stick-to-your-teeth chewy. With a candy thermometer, the process is easy.

The key to brittle is baking soda: It forms bubbles that make the brittle light enough to break apart and eat. The baking soda reacts with the melted sugar and foams up, in the same way it reacts with acids like buttermilk, vinegar, or lemon juice to make baked recipes light. Here’s a great article about brittle, if you want to learn more.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 bottle (8 oz.) light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. water
2 cups unsalted peanuts
2 tsp. baking soda

Butter a 9×13-inch baking sheet.

In a very large pot, mix sugar, syrup, water, and peanuts. Have the baking soda measured and ready in a small dish next to the stove.

Cook at moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the candy thermometer reads hard crack (just above 300F, or exactly 150C degrees). Remove from heat and immediately stir in baking soda. Pour out quickly onto baking sheet and let cool. Then break into pieces and serve.

Notes:
— Use a large pot because the mixture will foam up more than you may think. I used a 4-quart pot.
— Do not try to flatten the mixture after you pour it on the baking sheet, or you’ll break up some of the bubbles that are key to making it brittle.

Recipe originally from Melba Lehman.

Vertamae Grosvenor’s Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Vertamae Grosvenor was a national treasure. I learned about her from her PBS program in the late 1990s, “America’s Family Kitchen,” when I was really getting going with my cooking and saving every interesting recipe I saw. Her show was about the food of the South Carolina Low Country, and I remember seeing her standing in the studio kitchen, smiling and speaking with authenticity about the culture, flavors, and ingredients.

In the days before everything was put on the internet, I had to scribble down the recipe quickly as she said it on air. That’s why it’s in the step-by-step format below. Based on a couple of versions I’ve seen online, I think I got it mostly right — but regardless, the recipe I wrote down is delicious and one of my favorite healthy dishes.

Vertamae died in 2016. She worked for many years with NPR, and they wrote a beautiful tribute describing her fascinating life. The delicious food she wrote and spoke about was only part of the cultural legacy she left behind.

Serves 6-8

Mix in a large bowl:

1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced yellow pepper
1/2 cup diced orange pepper

Add, a cup at a time:

6 cups canned black-eyed peas, drained (4 15-oz. cans)

Mix gently so as not to bruise the peas. Then mix in:

1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped scallions/salad onions (I tend to omit this)
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. basil, cut or torn into large pieces
Salt to taste (generously is OK)
1/2 cup Italian dressing (I substitute red wine vinegar and olive oil)

Marinate overnight. When ready to serve, garnish with a sprig of basil and 1-inch pepper rings.

Fusilli with Basil, Mint, and Mozzarella

It was the offer of fresh herbs from my mother that inspired this recipe — big bunches of mint and basil that I was determined to make good use of right away. I thought of using them together over pasta, and I took inspiration from a New York Times recipe for the addition of fresh mozzarella and fusilli pasta. While at the store to buy the pasta, I saw grape tomatoes I wanted to use. That’s how I came up with this recipe, an easy one that is great for warm weather, when we don’t want heavy sauces and don’t want to spend a long time in the kitchen.

I can’t give exact amounts of the herbs, but I recommend using a whole lot. I had about six sprigs of garden-grown mint that, when chopped, yielded a large pile on the cutting board (if I could have scooped it up, it would have been a giant handful). Same with the basil. I had maybe three stems of organic basil that were huge and gave me about the same amount as the mint. But go with what you have, or whatever amount you prefer.

16 oz. fusilli pasta
1 punnet (about 1 pint) grape tomatoes
16 oz. mozzarella pearls (I used these from BelGioioso) or balls of mozzarella, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
A lot of mint, chopped
A lot of basil, chopped
Garlic powder (about 1/2 tsp.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the tomatoes in half width-wise (if they are especially long grape tomatoes, cut them in thirds). Place them in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients, mix and let sit at room temperature while you cook the pasta.

Cook the fusilli until al dente, then drain and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Mix well and serve.