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.

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

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.

Superfood Prickly Pear Recipes

Superfood Prickly Pear Recipes

imgresPrickly Pear Cactus is now being called a superfood for it’s cholesterol lowering and antioxident properties.  Here’s a link to some fantastic sounding recipes I’ll be trying soon.  Great news is that Prickly Pear is so sweet you can use it to sweeten things without sugar, plus it’s a really fun neon pink color.  You will find it in latin markets and in some parts of the country you find it in the grocery store when in season.  Here is an online source for some prickly pear products http://www.arizonacactusranch.com/order-our-products.html

Spooktacular Sugar-Free Mock-Tails PT 1

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Want all the fun and none of the sugar?  Here is the first of 3 great Halloween sugar-free drinks that will delight kids and adults alike.  Hint, just add rum for the grown-up version.

Ghoulish Ghost Juice

What You Need:

Silicone half dome molds.  CLICK HERE

Pineapple Juice

Concorde Grape Juice

Coconut Milk

(Optional but nice) Squeeze bottle CLICK HERE

(Optional but nice) Turkey baster, or large eye dropper

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Put a small amount of grape juice in the bottom of the silicone mold.  This will become the dark part of the eye, so don’t make it too large.  I used one of those eye dropper type medicine measures I had in the cabinet.  Place in the freezer until solid.  Then put the coconut milk into a squeeze bottle.  I use the squeeze bottle because if you try and pour from the can it will end up all over the place.  If you don’t have a squeeze bottle you could use a small pitcher or anything with a pour spout, or even use a turkey baster.  Now freeze for at least an hour but you can leave these in the freezer for a week.

In a pitcher mix one part coconut milk to 2 parts pineapple juice.  Chill very well in the fridge.  Pour in glasses and add your eyeball ice cubes just before serving.  Serve them with a spoon so the guests can fish out the eyeballs and watch them transform into bloodshot eyes.

COMING NEXT:  Witches Brew with Spider Ice

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30 minute no-sugar raspberry refrigerator jam

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Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Tools needed: sauce pan, cheese grater, wooden spoon.

Ingredients:
1 small container of rasberries
1 small size apple cored but with peel intact grated with a cheese grater
Apple juice or white grape juice . use enough to not quite cover the berries and add more if your berries are slightly tart, but then you’ll need to boil longer.
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and reduce at a hard boil that you can not stir down until it reaches a consistency you like. Put in a jar or bowl and refrigerate. It will last about 2 weeks in the refrigerator, then toss it. If you want to make a bunch for later because you’ve got lots of berries you can can this in a water bath or freeze it for up to a year. I make mine fresh every once in a while because I just don’t have the time for canning.

Like most families we use jam and jelly at our house on toast, sandwiches, pancakes and with cheese. I bet you’ve got a jar right now in your fridge. Now go and look at the label. Look really close. There is so much processed sugar in that jam you might as well be smearing your toast with candy! But there is more bad news for your health. All jams and jelly contains commercial pectin (probably even the ones at your local farmer’s market because I only found one recipe for a jam without pectin.

What’s wrong with pectin? Isn’t it just from apples? I was always under the impression that pectin came from apples so when I saw pectin on a label or in a recipe it was a natural ingredient. Then I decided to make my own no sugar raspberry jam with some left over fruit. All the recipes called for pectin even if they were avoiding sugar. So I bought some. I got the no sugar version and the regular version from ball. Much to my shock the first ingredient in both jars of pectin was dextrose. Dextrose is a synthetic sugar derived from corn.

a) corn sugar (C6H12O6, CAS Reg. No. 50-99-7), commonly called D-glucose or dextrose, is the chemical [alpha]-D-glucopyranose. It occurs as the anhydrous or the monohydrate form and is produced by the complete hydrolysis of corn starch with safe and suitable acids or enzymes, followed by refinement and crystallization from the resulting hydrolysate.

Read more: Types of Sugar – Dextrose Glucose and High Fructose Corn Syrup Types of Sugar – The Daily Green
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Products containing this chemical are totally legal to be labeled “all natural” because once upon a time before the lab it started as corn. Probably GMO corn mind you, but it did start as corn long long ago. Of most concern is what these processed sugars do in our bodies. The most serious issue is diabetes, but as a processed sugar it will cause a spike in your child’s insoin level and that leads to a crash. Then the child often craves more sugar or carbs because the brain is sending signals that it needs more. This can at best lead to obesity, at worst diabetes but most probably you’ll see hyperactivity, loss of focus, aggression, depression and a host of other behavioral issues depending on the sensitivity of your child.