About Nana Clare

Cookie baker, brownie maker for 50 years. Mom to three, Nana to five. Married to Mr. Right for 36 years. I'm also a sister to seven women - no brothers - and daughter to parents who have been together for 64 years. I love to bake breads, cookies, muffins, rolls, bars and did I say cookies? I make all kinds of jams and jellies and have a killer hot fudge recipe that goes back several generations in my family. Paired with my husband's homemade ice cream it's always a winning combo. Oh Yes! I also enjoy making soups, stews, stir fries and other munchies. I worked full time when my children were young and discovered many short cuts so that I could still provide healthy meals (most of the time). Catholic for life and loving it. BA in theater and speech, costuming/ Broadcasting school graduate/ MS in journalism and mass communication, emphasis in public relations/ Graduate of the Institute for Children's Literature - beginning and advanced classes - yes, I love to learn. And a graduate of many decorative painting schools. See my page on decorative painting in my home.

Lessons Learned from My Weekend Flops

on paper

peanut butter barIn my ongoing quest to eat healthier I have uncovered two of the worst recipes out there. At least two that I have tried. I’m certain there are other clunkers to be found, if I just keep looking.

The first was called “Chunky Monkey Muffins” from allrecipes.com. I adore that site and often use it for inspiration. Such a clever title. This recipe said that it was vegan and gluten free. While my diet doesn’t require either vegan or gluten free, I thought it would be a great one to try for my grown family with all their dietary needs.
The second was supposed to be a high protein breakfast bar. But first to the muffin mess.
chocolate banana muffins
As for me? I’m just trying to limit the sugar in my diet. I’ll eat meat happily, and eggs and bread. But I digress…
I was drawn to the recipe, in addition to the cute name, because it calls for two ripe bananas and I seem to have a steady supply of overripe bananas. (Our store had a sign for a while asking us not to break up “bunches of bananas,” so I end up bringing home huge bunches of bananas that seem to become overripe in the car ride home. They have removed the sign, but I still feel as if a produce thug is ready to jump out of the apple bin and pounce on me when I tear a banana family apart. Guilt, my ever present companion.)
This recipe also used dates with the bananas. No problem, I keep dates on hand because my chunky monkey hubby eats them like candy. No other sugar required and they were quite sweet. That was their saving grace.
There was one ingredient that I didn’t have – palm shortening. This was in addition to coconut oil. Since I didn’t have that I swapped out butter. (I know that’s not vegan, but they weren’t coming here this weekend. When push comes to shove, there is only so far I will tread into vegan territory.)

The top of the muffin was supposed to be sprinkled with chocolate chips and walnuts. In an effort to be good (which goes against my very nature!) I skipped the chips and added unsweetened coconut.
The resulting muffins? At first glance, I noticed that they sank in the middle. Not a confident lot, those muffins. The recipe called for baking soda and they must have meant baking powder which would have given them a bit of lift.

But that was only the beginning of their troubles. The tops of the muffins were flavorful with the chocolate/banana/walnut combo. But when you hit the middle and bottom you were treated to an oil well. Literally. Oil oozed out of the muffin papers. The bottom of each muffin looked like an oil spill in the ocean. Dark and murky. Not something to savor with morning coffee.
greasy bottom

Will I try the recipe again? You betcha! I’m the person who tips my hairdresser even after I’ve gotten another horrid haircut.
But I’ll add real flour, an egg and some oats. And cut the oil at least by half. But I won’t serve them to my vegan/GF family members. Stay tuned.
peanut butter bar

The next experiment was from a book called 500 Low-carb Recipes by Dana Carpender, published in 2002. The crazy thing is that I have no notion of how it got on my cookbook shelf. I have dozens and dozens of cookbooks, which I read, study and mark up. But this one is unmarked, although a bit yellow from age. A mystery! In spite of the fact that it could have been left by some outer space demon, I read through it and decided to try “Kathy’s Peanut Butter Protein Bars.” Sounds perfect for a busy work morning. A make ahead bar that you can devour and be on your way.

My first clue should have been that it was “Kathy’s” recipe. Not Dana’s, the cookbook author. She said it was a reader, but reader of what? Or whom?
peant butter yuk

But I am a succor for peanut butter, so I pressed on – literally one night about 10 pm. This one called for peanut butter, cream cheese, butter and gobs of protein powder. Seriously 1 and 3/4 cups of it. I have vanilla protein powder that’s flavored with Stevia, so I thought that would be good.
After mixing this crumbly mess in a bowl with a very heavy wooden spoon, you then press it into a pan and let it chill.
Chilling did not save this. It was crumbly and way too sweet, even though I didn’t add in the recommended extra 2 TBS of Splenda. Two tablespoons? And no one really uses Splenda anymore do they? It would have been utterly inedible with any more sweetener.
chocolate save
Ken and I both choked down a piece in the morning…with a lot of coffee. It was wretched. The next day, I thought I could save it by making a bit of chocolate with coconut oil, unsweetened chocolate and Stevia. I heated it, poured it on and let it chill. No save grace. Ken mumbled something about “just stopping for a breakfast sandwich” at a fast food joint.
I scraped the chocolate off and ate just that. Zoe the dog was the only one who was interested in the crumbly bottom. She a succor for peanut butter.

Zoe has the best job

Zoe has the best job

save or notI will continue to search for a high protein, low sugar breakfast bar. But not one that adds butter and cream cheese to peanut butter. What was I thinking? Now to find out who left this cookbook in my shelves…

Zucchini Oatmeal Muffins

Zucchini, a summer squash, grows abundantly in Iowa. While we think of it as a vegetable, it’s actually a fruit, a bland one that loves to be dressed up in cookies, breads, muffins, soups and stir fry recipes.
It’s not a fussy food. Just cut off the ends and the rest is fine to use – even the peel. No seeds to fish out. Just wash, then chop, grate or shred and it’s ready in a snap.

zucchini muffin

I got hungry for my old fashioned oatmeal muffins awhile back. You know, with cinnamon and walnuts. But I was disappointed that they weren’t more moist. Then when some young ripe zucchinis landed in my shopping cart, I decided to grate them and create a new recipe. It was the perfect addition to these muffins and I cannot wait to make them again.

If you are thinking that your kids will fish out, or question what the green stuff is, they won’t. The zucchini sort of disappears in the baking process. If they notice anything, you can always say they are “gummy worms” which kids seem to devour.

I cut back on the sugar and changed up the oil. I am certain you could use applesauce instead of the oil if you like. I also used part whole wheat pastry flour, but they would be fine with white flour.

I shared these Zucchini Oatmeal muffins with a family that had just had a new baby. The new mom’s comment was that “zucchini muffins are my two year old’s favorites.” Lucky kid to have such good taste so young.

Note on Zucchini: Pat out some of the water after you shred it. Then fluff it with a fork and measure the cup as a fluffed out mass. Do not pack the zucchini down or it will be too heavy.
12 muffins
Ingredients for Zucchini Oatmeal Muffins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2 eggs
1 cup coconut sugar – or brown sugar or white sugar.
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup coconut oil (If you don’t have this, just use 1/2 cup butter – 1 stick)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup shredded zucchini – see note above.
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup walnuts (I roasted mine first.)
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup quick oats
six moreDirections
Spray a muffin tin or line with papers. Standard size 2 1/2″ muffins. Recipe makes 16 – 18.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat the eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy.
Mix in the zucchini.
Add the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until blended.
Fold in the nuts and scoop into muffin pan.
Bake about 20 minutes.
bite of muffin

You’ll want to dive in as soon as they’re out of the oven. But give them 10 min to cool – if I had I wouldn’t have burned my tongue!

Easy Chicken Quesadilla’s and Taco Seasoning Mix

When I think of quesadilla’s, I think of my daughter as a youngster. She was about ten the first time we went to Mexico as a family. At every restaurant, she ordered a cheese quesadilla… the closest thing to her favorite grilled cheese sandwiches.

There are so many ways to make a quick and easy quesadilla. You can customize them for vegetarians or those who need gluten free. I typically use chicken, vegetables and cheese in mine, but you can adapt yours for the child that won’t eat a vegetable, or the one who doesn’t eat cheese. Take this as more of a process, than a recipe. Isn’t that the way most of us like to cook?
onions peppers

I’ll give you a basic recipe first and then will follow with shortcuts. Fair enuf?
Ingredients for Easy Chicken Quesadilla’s
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
3 TBS olive oil (or canola)
1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 TBS salsa
1 TBS taco seasoning (Store bought or follow directions below.)
4 Wheat tortillas (or corn for gluten free)
1 cup cheese
2 TBS butter
Brown onion and red pepper in 1 TBS olive oil on medium high heat. Add half the spices. Remove veggies and set aside.
In the same pan, add the remaining 2 TBS olive oil, heat it and brown the chicken.
Add the vegetables back into the pan with the chicken and season with remaining spices. (Taco seasoning)
Add the salsa and a tablespoon or two of water, if dry.
Turn the heat down and let the mixture cook for 3-5 minutes to blend flavors.
chicken and veggies
begin cooking
Assemble the Quesadilla
In a clean skillet, turn heat to medium and melt 1 TBS of butter.
Place one tortilla into the pan and spoon on chicken and veggies. Don’t overload.
Quickly sprinkle on 1/2 cup of your favorite cheese, then place a second tortilla over the cheese.
Check to see if the bottom is golden and when it is, carefully flip the entire quesadilla over with a large spatula.
Brown second side – about a minute, then remove it and place on a cutting board.
Cut into six pie shaped slices.
Repeat the process.
add cheese
***Taco Seasoning If you want to make your own, it’s quite simple.
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp salt
add top and flip

*** I put ten times the amounts of each ingredient into an old glass spice jar.
Other items you may want to include: red pepper flakes, oregano, black pepper, white pepper. Suit yourself.
Now I can sprinkle a lot or a little onto anything.

Simplify the Recipe? Purchase a roasted chicken, instead of browning your own.
Pull the meat off and put into a pan on low.
Add 1/2 cup of salsa instead of the vegetables.
Sprinkle with packaged taco or fajita seasoning.
Cook together with a bit of water – 2-5 minutes.

Need Gluten Free? Use corn tortillas. Yes, they are smaller and will need to be handled quickly, but they can work.
Need vegetarian? Eliminate the chicken and just use veggies and cheese. Or skip the veggies. Or skip the cheese.
That’s it. It’s a wrap!

Cheesy Roasted Potatoes

all doneYou say potatoes, I say – YES! We do love our potatoes – baked, fried, roasted, mashed, or au gratin. Potatoes are the single most popular vegetable eaten in the US. Technically they’re a veggie, but a nutritionist would say they are a starch. These are like fries, but better. And easier than au gratin potatoes, but just as cheesy. And I mean that in the nicest way.
Last week, some cheesy potatoes were the top post on Pinterest. A blog called Crème De La Crumb was drawing people like flies to a picnic.
I decided to make a “clare-ified” version of them. Of course the ones on Pinterest looked as if a food stylist had been involved. And a talented photographer, which she is. Instead of me.
She used Russet potatoes, which are the large ones. I prefer smaller red or Yukon Gold potatoes, so my potato wedges were petite and not as well ordered as the pictures of hers. (Read messy) But oh were they tasty. And that counts.
I used a few different spices and grated parmesan cheese instead of shredded. This gave me larger cheese pieces that created little cheese crackers from the run off. I was just obsessed with the cheese. They were fabulous! Even if they’d never be a magazine cover, there were no complaints from the hubby.

Usually when I roast potatoes, I add other veggies, but this time, it was a solo act. They were the star.
ready for oven
I did not measure spices, so these are approximate. This is a “shake and bake” recipe so adjust to suit your taste.
Ingredients for Cheesy Roasted Potatoes

4 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges. Leave the skins on.
3 TBS olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp parsley – fresh is best but use what you have
1/2 – 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
cheesy taters
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Place a piece of parchment on a rimmed baking sheet.
Use a one gallon sized baggie and dump in the potatoes and all the ingredients.
Shake to mix.
Dump onto the baking sheet.
Bake 25 – 35 minutes until they are golden, as in heavenly.
tater heaven
If you have left overs, heat in a frying pan for lunch – add more cheese. But you won’t have many left over. Promise.