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

Amazing new research shows that the bipolar brain is wired differently

Bipolar disorder has long been a puzzle for doctors and scientists.  It runs strongly in families yet there is no single gene to blame.  It effects 200 million people worldwide yet treatments is like shooting darts at a blackboard blindfolded hoping to hit a target.  Promising new stem cell research shows specific differences in how the bipolar brain works and these differences could lead to better treatments down the road.  One of the most exciting things about this research is HOW they did it.   This amazing stem cell research could lead to further research in other disorders that effect the brain.

First stem cell study of bipolar disorder yields promising results — ScienceDaily.

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.

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