Manic Days and Cupcakes

IMG_4985It all started last Friday night when Miley woke up at 12:30 thinking it was morning.  Over an hour later I had her to sleep but it set us on a path of overtired, hyperactive, obsessive, demanding, and defiant days.  Today I spent my morning at physical therapy (had surgery on my foot a couple of months ago), then rushed to the store, rushed to pick her up at pre-school and take her to the doctor.  Thankfully she only had a cold and not strep or worse since she is allergic to all antibiotics!  On the way out of the doctor’s office she passed the drug store/gift shop and started the familiar begging for a toy.  I was not about to cave on my “we don’t get toys for going to the doctor” policy but to be honest after days and days of battling her on every single little thing I was just tired and didn’t want another fight.  So I distracted her with the first fun thing that popped into my head.  Making cupcakes.  Somewhere deep in my heart I still believe that baked goods supply happiness.  So, on a day where I hadn’t even had time to shower I was hauling out the kitchen aid and making the healthiest cupcakes I could muster on short notice.  I’m not at all a baker but I improvised from a normal cupcake recipe to make it a tiny bit healthier.  Tiny being the operative word.  There are actually much more wholesome gluten free and even sugar free versions but I didn’t have all the fancy non gluten flours on hand and I needed this to be simple.  I also believe that a bit of organic cane sugar every now and again won’t kill her.   This is still way better than a box mix or store bought cupcakes.  Plus we had the fun of making them.

 

Ingredients for Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes:
3/4 cup cake flour or unbleached all purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat pastry flour (this is a finer grind and is important to texture)
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup organic cane sugar  (read my post on stevia as a substitute and don’t do it.  I toyed with coconut palm sugar but that would have made them brown.)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil or a combo.  I used a combo

1/2 cup buttermilk or (or 1/2 cup milk plus 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice- add acid to the milk then set aside for 5 minutes before using)

Step 1 – Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.

 Step 2 – In your mixer bowl beat the eggs with the whisk attachment  on medium speed for a 10-15 seconds.   Keep the mixer going and add the other ingredients.

Step 3 – Add the sugar

 Step 4 – Add the vanilla and oil

 Step 5 – Add half the flour mixture

 Step 6 – Add half the buttermilk

 Step 7 – Add the rest of the flour

 Step 8 – Add the rest of the buttermilk

 Step 9 – Pour into paper cupcake lined muffin tin(s)  Fill each cupcake tin about half way.   Mine makes oversized cupcakes so it made 6 perfectly.  It would make a dozen normal sized.

 Step 10 – Bake at 350 until a wooden toothpick comes out clean in the center.  It took mine about 20 minutes but my oven is a bit dodgy these days.  I’d set the timer for 12 for a fist look and then keep an eye on them.  Let them cook completely before frosting.  I just did the confectioner’s sugar and milk glaze with some pomegranate juice added for color.  If I had more time I might have opted for a peanut butter or creamed cheese frosting since those are at least adding a protein.   Sugar free frosting is yet another area I need to do more research in.

 I will try and play around with this recipe and see if I can substitute honey for all or some of the sugar.   Now mamma needs a cocktail.

Wiggle Hearts- Natural vegan sugar free jello in minutes

IMG_4959 My daughter is obsessed with Jello.  Unfortunately all those pretty colors from food dye and the super sweet flavor from sugar puts it on the big no way list for her.  So I set out to find a healthy alternative.  This recipe takes minutes to make, takes only 3 ingredients and is completely vegan, sugar free and dye free.  I’ve been looking for a healthy version of Jello for a long time and then I started playing around with agar agar in my experiments with molecular gastronomy.  Agar is made from sea weed so it’s completely natural and vegan.  Gelatin is made by boiling animal parts in water.  We are not vegan but the whole process for gelatin gives me the creeps so I’d like to avoid it.  Agar can be found on Amazon and at natural food stores.  It comes as a IMG_4962powder and will maintain it’s powder form until boiled.  It will dissolve at temperatures between 95 and 100 degrees but remains a gel at room temperature.  It solidifies much more quickly than gelatin, and dissolves more quickly than sugar so I find this much faster than making the stuff in the box.  This recipe makes a firm gel similar to knox blox we had as a kid.  If you want a slightly less firm gel just back off a bit on the agar.

My recipe gives the amounts by weight as we do in modernist cooking. We do this because cooking by weight is far more accurate and you will get more consistent results. I suggest you purchase a small inexpensive but accurate scale on amazon for this and other modernist techniques.   This is a link to the one I have.  It costs $8 and is available on Amazon Prime. AWS 1KG digital scale

Step 1 – Measure out 150 grams of white grape juice and 150 grams of pomegranate juice and place in a sauce pan.  Approximately 2 cups by volume.

Step 2 – place some parchment paper on your scale an zero it out (restart it).  Slowly put Agar powder on the sale until it reads 3 grams.  Approximately 1 tablespoon by volume.

Step 3 – Add the agar to the juice and bring to a rapid boil.  Allow to boil for 15- 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

Step 4 – Pour the mixture into a pyrex dish or glass pie pan and place in the fridge.

Step 5 – Wait till it is firm (about 15 minutes) and remove from the fridge.  Now simply use cookie cutters to cut out any shape you like, or use a knife to cut them into blocks or diamonds.

If you do this by volume and not by weight you may not get the same results but its fast to try again so just adjust the ratio till you find a texture you are happy with.

Stevia it’s not as healthy as you think

Stevia it’s not as healthy as you think

images-1As I look for sugar alternatives I’m constantly finding that real organic cane sugar (not the white stuff in your mass supermarket) is often the best choice.  Here’s a great article written by The Food Babe on 101 Days of Real Food about the latest sugar alternative of choice, Stevia, and why you might be reaching for the wrong alternative.

Sweet Winter Harvest Parsnips

IMG_4903I love parsnips.  We only see them in the winter which makes them a little more unique than their cousin the carrot.  This is a very fast and easy recipe that will go with practically any meal.  It takes about 15 minutes to make.  I call these Honey Parsnip Fries for kids because they are super sweet and they have a great texture.

Just like carrots these root veggies have a lot of sugar, similar to that of a banana actually.  Because of this they are not suitable for diabetic diets but they are great for kids!  Parsnips provide lots of dietary fiber, vitamin C, Folic Acid, B complex vitamins, minerals like iron, calcium, copper, potassium, manganese and phosphorus. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium.  As in carrots and other members of apiaceae family vegetables, parsnip too contains many poly-acetylene anti-oxidants such as falcarinol, falcarindiol, panaxydiol, and methyl-falcarindiol.  Several research studies from scientists at University of Newcastle at Tyne found that these compounds have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-cancer function and offer protection from colon cancer and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).  Read more about nutrition in this and other foods you eat here.

 

IMG_4896Step One: Scrub the outside of the parsnips but don’t peel them.  The skin makes a nice crispy texture and provides a lot of nutritional value.  Peeling veggies is one of the biggest mistake we make when it comes to nutrition.  Cut the parsnips into french fry size sticks, but not too small.  You want some surface area to caramelize and brown in the pan.

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Step Two:  Heat up your iron skillet to medium high temp with some olive oil and a pad of butter.  Place the parsnips around the skillet, careful to not overcrowd and make sure all the parsnips are touching the pan.  If the pan is too crowded they will steam and you won’t get a nice crispy texture.  Add some thyme leaves if you have them and sprinkle with salt.  Cook for 5 minutes with lid off, cover for 5 minutes then turn over all the parsnips to crisp again.  Cover if they are still too firm.

 

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Step 3:  Add 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and cook for a few minutes with the lid off to allow the balsamic to caramelize.  Toss the parsnips in the glaze in the pan.  Serve with sprigs of thyme as garnish.

Sous Vide – the modern mom essential

IMG_3265If you are like most of the world  you have no idea if sous vide is a cooking term or a sexual position.  Until recently it was the stuff of serious food geeks but as of this winter you can be cooking like a top chef for under $300.  For the record sous vide is not a sexual position, it’s a cooking method that sounds fancy, expensive and complicated but really isn’t.   Sous vide literally means cooking in a vacuum.   The technique involves vacuum sealing food in plastic bags and then cooking in a water bath at very low temperatures for very long periods of time. The result is perfectly cooked meats that are very tender, veggies that are exactly the right texture with no nutrient loss and foods that will freeze or keep longer in the refrigerator because they are vacuum packed. I’ve been using this technique to create frozen meals for my daughter for close to a year.  Why do I think every mom should know about it?  It’s easy, the active time is very short so you can create large batches of meals in advance very easily, it makes food more healthy because you aren’t losing any nutrients (the bags are BPA free so don’t stress about cooking in plastic), it improves texture and flavor for many of the foods you already enjoy, it saves money and finally it saves time.  When you’re chicken is moist and tender every time you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this sooner.  Think of it as the ultimate crock pot but with no crock pot to clean and everything made ahead and ready in your freezer for meals in minutes.

IMG_3268Working in large batches I fill a freezer with sous vide meals that are perfectly portioned and fully cooked with very little effort.  In this photo I’m creating garlic rosemary chicken breast in perfect size portions for my daughter and I.  In a few hours I can do 2 months worth of meals.  It’s also no mess cooking.  Everything is in the bag so there are no pots and pans to clean.  The food thaws quickly and then I simply sear it in my iron skillet. Viola, dinner in 15 minutes. Best part is that the meal is gourmet worthy and very healthy. There is also a budget aspect to this. By cooking low and slow (think the ultimate braise with no moisture loss) you can give cheaper cuts the texture of fillet minion. I cooked some rump and shoulder cuts from grass fed beef that were simply melting in your mouth and packed with flavor.  Because I’m using cheaper cuts I can splurge on the best possible grass fed beef and improve the health of what my family eats.

So why have you never heard of this amazing way of cooking? Well up until this year the equipment needed was very expensive. Entry level was around $500 and then you had to buy the equipment to do the vacuum sealing.   As of this year there are three immersion circulators (what you are actually cooking with when we say “sous vide”) that are priced under $300.  Here is the low down on the three contenders.

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The Anova – Retails at $199.  This one seems to be favored slightly among the food geeks.  It has a slightly smaller size but the other two seem to be easier to operate.  Along with the Sansaire it has a larger capacity so would be better suited for larger projects. There are only US versions in black available and I’m guessing they won’t be around long so don’t hesitate to buy or you’ll be waiting.  Order Anova Here

The Sansaire – Retails at $199.  The Sansaire is much loved for ease of use and larger capacity.  Sadly it is currently sold out.  Check back with them here to see when a new shipment will be available.  Currently no date is listed.   Get Sansaire Information Here

The Nomiku – Retails at $299.95 – This is adorable and easy to use.  It rather looks like a sex toy actually.  This one is really designed for the home cook with ease in mind.  They were even featured on Rachel Ray.  I was in the first run of these from Kickstarter and I absolutely LOVE mine.  That said, it’s the most expensive and has the smallest capacity.  I have a sous vide supreme that I still use, often having the two side by side on my massively cramped counter.  Order Nomiku Here

Serious Eats has product tests and a great comparison between the three.  Click below for the full review.

Serious Eats Sous Vide Review