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

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

sugar-free watermelon lemonade

My daughter loves lemonade and she wants to have lemonade stands all the time but she can’t have sugar. The problem with sugar alternatives is that most of them are brown and that makes for a very ugly lemonade. The ones that are white are so highly processed you ight be better off with an organic white sugar. See this article about stevia from 100 days of real food. I was stumped until mid summer when I had found I had leftover watermelon from the weekend and needed to do something with it. Normally I go right for the watermelon margaritas but it was a Tuesday at 2 in the afternoon and my 5 year old wanted to have a lemonade stand so I put down the tequila. What I discovered is that watermelon is so sweet you don’t need any sugar. You can do this in a blender but of course the vitamix is the best! You can also use a juicer and avoid the step of straining the watermelon.

First cube up your left over watermelon and put it in the blender. Blend on the highest setting until liquified.

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Now strain the watermelon.

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Now add some water and lemon or lime juice to taste. Start with ratio of 25% water to watermelon juice. Then add lemon or lime juice one at a time till you like the balance of sweet to tart. Now add some mint leaves and slices of lemons and/or limes. Poor it over a ton of ice and open the lemonade stand!

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Easy healthy pumpkin muffins

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Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Tools needed: mixer, muffin tins or silicone molds
Yields 24 mini muffins or 12 regular size muffins

In the fall my five year old and I like to make mini pumpkin muffins together. This recipe is really fast, easy and healthy while being the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever eaten…seriously. I’ve always loved pumpkin muffins and for some reason I thought of them as healthy so I was astonished to see most recipes call for tons of sugar. Box mixes go even further by adding hydrogenated oils and chemicals to the processed sweeteners. I tried several no sugar versions and ended up adapting a recipe from one of my favorite websites Kitchen Stewardship. I played around with the spice mix to get just the right balance I like and added optional chia seeds and/or flax seeds for some omega 3.  I use a combination of butter and coconut oil for the best flavor and health benefit. They always turn out very moist and very sweet with just the right spice. Kids love making these and they are very easy so make it a project! They will love the muffins even more and take such pride in sharing them with friends.

1 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons ground flax seeds or chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup raw agave
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup melted butter cooled to room temp
1/4 cup melted coconut oil cooled to room temp.
(Substitute with melted butter if you don’t have coconut oil)
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup organic pumpkin purée (about half a can)

In a stand mixer or large bowl combine all of the dry ingredients and spices. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on medium speed till fully combined. Do not over beat or the texture will be gummy. Put them in greased muffin tins or silicone muffin molds. Bake at 325 for 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the muffins. They are very very moist so you can take a longer baking time but be careful because honey has a lower burning point than sugar so keep an eye on them. My mini silicone molds stay in for about 20 minutes.