Whole Grain Apple Crisp

Apple Crisp--ServedI easily succumb to the temptation of sweet treats particularly baked goods.  My daughters share this weakness, though they naturally gravitate to candy.   My husband is the exception, and despite his relentless admonishments, we eat a sweet treat nearly every night after dinner—not a lot but something.  The meal just doesn’t feel complete without it.

Though I love bakery treats, I have limited talent for the art of baking, and that is purposeful. As a limited resource, I have only so much time to dedicate to cooking.  If I’m doing my best to create whole-food, plant-based meals every day that are not only healthy but enjoyable to eat, well then sweet treats have to take a backseat. Moreover, let’s say that I did regularly bake.  Who would eat it?  Not my children.  I am a responsible parent, and would limit their intake.  Not my sweet-toothless husband.  That leaves me, standing alone in my pantry, quietly cramming cookies in my mouth while my children call out, “What are you doing in there, Mama?”  I’ve been down that road to Weight Watchers more than once.

When I do find the time to make desserts, I incorporate the foods we need for good health too—fruits, legumes and whole grains.  I don’t delude myself.  Even though they they are made with whole foods, they remain desserts—hard-to-resist, calorie-dense, goodies made with butter and sugar.  Eating a lot of them will make you fat.

Some of you may poo-poo my sweet treat philosophy.  You’re thinking, “Just let cake be cake, and healthy foods be damned at dessert-time.”  But cake is too easy to come by, and I eat enough of it without going out of my way.   My own cooking efforts have to go toward the goal of including at least 8 – 12 serving of fruits and vegetables in our diet every day. This adds a challenging new dimension to the art of creating sweet treats. While I want them to be healthy, taste is essential. Nothing leaves me feeling more cheated than eating a grainy, tasteless food masquerading as a sweet treat.

Fruit is a natural solution.  It’s nature’s candy. I make apple crisp a lot and have for years.  The prep work takes only a few minutes with the right tools, it’s chock full of apples, and no-one feels cheated when served a warm, fresh from-the-oven helping of apple crisp topped with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

Apple Crisp
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8
Pears, peaches, and cherries also work nicely in this recipe. Serve it with a bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
  • 3 ½ pounds apples, cored and peeled
  • 1 T lemon juice (optional)
  • ½ cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional)
  • 6 T unsalted butter, cold
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Lightly butter an 11” x 7” (8 cup) baking dish and preheat oven to 375◦ F.
  2. Core and peel the apples; toss with lemon juice and dried fruit; and place in the baking dish.
  3. Cut the butter into small chunks.
  4. Using a food processor or fork or hands, cut the butter into the rest of the dry ingredients until it is just combined. (It should look lumpy and crumbly).
  5. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the apples and bake until the apples are tender and the crisp is crisp—about 50 minutes.

Cooking with Kids:

Apple Crisp Prep--Pealing Apples

This may be one of the easiest, no-fuss, no-danger recipes to make with your kids.  Invest in an apple peeler if you don’t have one.  Kids never tire of using that gadget.

Officially, to make the crumble, you should not use your hands to cut the butter into the dry ingredients as the heat from your hands will melt the butter. I ignore this rule as the kids love to use their hands. Just don’t let them do it for too long and start with ice cold butter. I haven’t noticed any difference in crisp mixed with a fork or hands.

Apple Crisp Ingredients--All   Apple Crisp Ingredients--ButterApple Crisp Prep--Nutmeg2

The girls made this recipe with me just supervising and setting up.

Apple Crisp Prep--Making Topping

Apple Crisp--Before Baking

The crisp before placing it in the oven.




Perfect Popcorn–Herb Buttered & Beyond

As I wander down the snack aisle of the supermarket, I marvel at the ingenuity of the food industry.  They have managed to take popcorn–a healthy, cheap, easily accessible, easily stored whole grain snack food—and transform it into a highly processed, expensive, unhealthy food.   Not long ago, Americans made popcorn from scratch on their stove tops for all sorts of occasions—family movie night, holiday treats, slumber parties and after school snacks.  Making and eating popcorn represented togetherness and celebration.  Now we buy popcorn that we nuke in the microwave to eat in bags while we watch TV alone.

Let’s reclaim the American popcorn tradition. Consider the following:  Popcorn kernels cost anywhere from $0.08 to $0.15 an ounce compared to microwave popcorn which starts at about $0.30 an ounce.  It takes 1 minute of prep time and 4 minutes of cook time to make about 2 quarts of popcorn on the stovetop.  The average microwave popcorn bag take approximately 3 minutes of cook-time.  Popcorn from scratch tastes better. Do a taste comparison with your family if you don’t believe me.  Moreover, if you buy popcorn from a local farmer or from the bulk food section, your packaging can be nil compared to bagged, wrapped and boxed microwave brands.  Lastly, only 3 ingredients are required to make stovetop popcorn. On the other hand, even the most “natural” of microwave brands contain preservatives and ingredients like “palm oil” whose production is destroying the rainforest.  (My big girl told me that rainforests are cut down to make room for palm oil plantations).

So at the end of the comparison we find that microwave popcorn saves us 2 minutes of time and a pan to wash.  True, you must give your full attention to the 5-minute cooking process while making stovetop popcorn, but I don’t consider this a disadvantage because it’s fun especially with the kids. So if you value good flavor, your health, orangutans (whose numbers are diminishing due to the devastation of the rainforest), your money, your family, then make popcorn  from scratch and make the world a better place.  Who knew popcorn could do all of that?!

Perfect Popcorn with Herb Buttered Topping
Recipe type: Appetizer or Snack
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 - 10 cups
Perfect Popcorn is the basic popcorn recipe and delicious all on it's own. This isn't a fussy recipe. Using a wok concentrates the heat and reduces cooking time but it is not essential. The main thing is to keep shaking and have a pan with a lid that allows steam to escape.
  • ½ cups popcorn kernels
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons canola oil or any oil with a high smoking point--vegetable, corn, coconut, peanut, etc.
  1. Use a large pan of wok with a relatively lose fitting lid so the steam can escape. (If you don't have a lid, you can cover the pan with tinfoil and poke a few holes in it).
  2. Add the popcorn, salt, and oil to the pan or wok, cover with a lid, and cook over a high flame shaking the pan back and forth constantly.
  3. Continue shaking until the popcorn slows in popping—about 3-5 minutes depending on the type of pan.
  4. Remove from heat and carefully stir in any salt that has accumulated on the side. Eat as is or top with favorite topping.
HERB BUTTER TOPPING: 2 Tablespoons melted butter; ¼ cup chopped dill or other herbs; Drizzle melted butter over popcorn and toss. Sprinkle chopped herbs over popcorn and toss again. (TIP: Don't melt the butter with the herbs or they will clump). MORETOPPING IDEAS: - Parmesan cheese - Cayenne pepper and sugar - Soy sauce - Garlic powder - Balsamic vinegar - Cinnamon and Powdered Sugar - Garlic powder and Paprika - Melted butter or margarine - Garlic powder and paprika - Chopped fresh herbs - Powdered Sugar and Cocoa - Tabasco - Brewers yeast (a Milwaukee favorite)

Cooking With Kids:

The girls made this entire recipe.  I just supervised or rather, refereed.

My big girl chopped the dill with kid scissors, chopping and measuring enough to fill ¼ cup.  Meanwhile the little one measured the popcorn, oil and salt into the wok.


One melted the butter while the other made the popcorn.

Finally, enjoying the fruits of their labor.


Popcorn needs between 13.5-14% moisture to pop. So if your popcorn won’t pop maybe it’s too dry.  Try filling a quart jar 3/4 full of popcorn.  Add 1 tablespoon of water and shake until it is absorbed.  Store in a cool place.  A few days later, the popcorn should pop.

Whole Grains

Refined grains are essential junk food.  They have calories and little more.  Don’t eat them or at least when you do eat them, acknowledge to yourself that you are eating junk food.  That sounds harsh, I know.   But I think it is the kind of tough love most of us need.  it will push you include whole grains whenever you can and shun the refined.

What are whole grains and why should you eat them?  A grain is a seed and the whole grain contains all 3 parts–the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The USDA recommends that we eat 3 servings or more of whole grains every day.  Whole grains provide fiber and nutrients. Study after study shows people who eat whole grains are thinner, healthier and live longer.

What are refined grains and why should we avoid them?  A refined grain is any grain–wheat, corn, rice, barley,  etc–that has had the wheat and the germ removed, leaving just the endosperm. Anything made from white flour or enriched flour is a refined grain.  “Enriched” means vitamins, which were removed with the bran and the germ, are added in again.

If you make more rustic unfussy sorts of baked-goods (not fancy cakes or cresants for example) it is relatively easy to make the switch. Simply substitute WHOLE WHEAT PASTRY FLOUR for enriched white flour, but it must be pastry flour. Try it.  Take your favorite cookie recipe for example and substitue whole wheat pastry flour.  No one in your family will even notice.

So if you’re going to take the time make homemade sweet treats, make them a bit healthier by using whole wheat flour.  Warning! Don’t delude yourself into thinking that just because it is a whole grain food made from scratch and with love, you can eat as much as you’d like. Don’t you remember the stick of butter you added and those 2 cups of sugar?  I once or twice became fat operating under that delusion quietly eating batches of whole wheat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies alone in the privacy of my pantry after the kiddies were tucked in bed.  A whole grain, whole food is not necessarily a low-calorie food.

Is there a place for refined grain foods?  Yes.  I wouldn’t dream, for example, of making mac-n-cheese with whole grain pasta.  Yuck!   The point is that we live in a toxic, refined-grain environment where you must go out of your way to make sure you are getting whole grains. So do that.  Go out of your way.  What?  You don’t like being thin?   You don’t want your family to be healthy?

By the way, I do love fancy cakes and cresants.  I just don’t make them.  I buy them from a talented pastry chef who owns a bakery very near to here.  Just one more way I try my best to contribute to the local economy!