Fast Easy Sugar-Free Blueberry Thyme Syrup

IMG_6588You may not have realized this yet but I’m really incredibly lazy.  Yup that’s right LA-ZY!  I take cooking shortcuts, I opt for the easy recipes, I go for the fast stuff that LOOKS like I’m an incredibly hard working chef slaving away in the kitchen.   In reality I’m a totally lazy mom with absolutely no time to cook.  Here is one of the best and easiest recipes ever.  It makes a wonderful syrup that’s great for pancakes, snow cones, ice cream sundays and cocktails for mommy.  The addition of thyme gives it an interesting flavor that makes it a bit more complex without taking away from its yummy sweet fruity taste.  This fancy sounding syrup has 3 ingredients, takes 10 minutes to make and will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.  If you want to make a bigger batch and can it…well you’re a mom with way more time on her hands than me.

 

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Ingredients:

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

1 small basket fresh blackberries

1 cup apple juice

 

 

 

 

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Step 1:  Toss all ingredients in a heavy sauce pan

 

 

 

 

IMG_6577Step 2:  Bring to a hard boil that can’t be stirred down for a minute or two.

Step 3:  Use the back of a spoon to smoosh any remaining berries. Strain ingredients into a heat proof jar like pyrex or a canning jar.  Refrigerate.

Best Sugar Free Popsicles Ever – And How to Get your Kid to Eat Them

IMG_3301Got a blender and some left over fruit and juice?  Making healthy and delicious popsicles is the easiest thing on the planet. Getting your kids to eat them though may not be.  Why will your kid reject the delicious home made popsicle for one of those nasty colored sugar water things at the grocery store?  One word – marketing!  If you’re gonna get your kid to make those healthy choices you’re going to need a marketing plan of your own.

As any good marketer can tell you the food companies are spending millions of dollars researching how to make your kid believe without a doubt that otter pops are way better.  I’m not talking about ads either I’m talking about the color, the packaging and the name.  All of these things go into our perception of how food tastes and this determines our choices.

Packaging  Any chef will tell you that you eat first with your eyes and that’s where most food marketing starts.   It has been shown time and time again that if you give someone the exact same food in two different packages they will think one is better tasting than the other. I’m taking a tip from what the food industry has already figured out.  Kids love things in squeeze packages.  There is something tactile fun about pushing up those otter pops.  There are some reusable silicone ice pop molds out there, but in the end they scream “home made” to your kid, and you know that means “not as good” to them.  I found these amazing zipzicles at amazon and my frozen treat worries were over!  Kids love these things and as an added bonus they travel well.
The Name  Would a popsicle by any other name taste as sweet?  Apparently not.  Try this test.  Mix Orange and Pineapple juices and freeze them in your favorite popsicle mold.  Put two out on plates.  Tell your kid one is an orange pineapple popsicle and the other is an “arctic orange monster blast” or a “tropical pirate chiller.”  See which one gets chosen.  So experiment with fun names for your pops!

Color  Use lots of colorful fruits and juices to make your pops pop!  Kiwi and honeydew mellon will make a wonderful exciting green.  Pomegranate juice makes intense purple/pink and adds a lot of sweetness.  I wish I could make something blue somehow but it’s simply not a color found in nature…which is why we probably shouldn’t eat it!

 

Now to the recipe.  Really you don’t need one, just a few guidelines.  Toss some fruit and juice in your blender and freeze.  Apples tend to give an odd texture and the “pulp” part of the apple will rise to the top for some unappealing pops.  Make sure you have more juice than pureed fruit because again you’ll get a layer of fruit pulp at the top.  I make pops most Fridays with whatever left over fruit is sitting around.  When there is left over bits from breakfast during the week I just toss them into a zip lock back in the fridge for later blending.  Make any combo you like with whatever you’ve got laying around.  Here are a couple of my favorite experiments:

Tropic Blast Pops

1 ripe banana

1/3 cup orange juice

1/3 cup pineapple juice

1/3 cup mango juice (or some left over mango)

 

Chi Chiller

Almond Milk

Pitted Dates

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Sprinkle of cardamom

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.

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.

10 Minute Witch Fingers

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If you live near a Trader Joes or Fresh and Easy you can have which fingers in 10 minutes! They are whole wheat, they have no sugar, dye or other bad stuff, and they are super fun for kids to create and eat. The only downfall is they really need to be made the same day, so you’ll need to carve our 10 minutes plus the time to clean up and plate, but I took these to a friends house and the kids devoured them! My 5 year old enjoyed making them with me and then proudly served them to her friends.

What You’ll Need

Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Pizza Dough (or pizza dough from Fresh and Easy)
One egg white
Course salt, kosher or sea salt
Almond slivers
Pizza Sauce for dipping (Trader Joe’s is good, be careful of some store bought varieties that may contain artificial sweeteners)
Olive oil for the pan
Flour to keep dough from sticking to your hands

Prep – Place dough on counter to come to room temp. Preheat oven to 425.

Step 1 – pinch off small balls of dough with your fingers. Using flour so the dough doesn’t stick roll the dough into a finger shape with your hands and place on oiled cookie sheet.

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Step 2 – add almond slivers for the fingernails

Step 3 – brush with egg white. Sprinkle generously with salt.

Step 4 – bake at 425 for 5-8 minutes until just starting to brown slightly.

Step 5 – put plastic right rings on the fingers if you wish and serve with pizza sauce for dipping.

Spooktacular Halloween Mock-tails Pt. 2

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Witch’s Brew with Spider Ice Cubes

What You Need:

Silicone mini muffin molds

Spider Rings

White Grape Juice

Pineapple Juice (or whatever other juice you’ve got around)

Sparkling Apple Cider

Step 1 Put the muffin mold on a cookie sheet or plate that will fit in your freezer.

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Step 2 Place Spider rings inside muffin molds face down.  Squish them down a bit because they will want to float.

Step 3 Pour white grape juice into the molds.

Step 4 Freeze for at least an hour, but can be made weeks in advance.

Step 5 Combine equal parts fruit juice and sparkling apple cider.  If you can’t find good sparkling apple cider in your area you can use a bit of club soda or sparkling water.

Step 6 Just before serving add the ice cubes.