Sunday, January 31, 2010

Healthful and convenient for less than fast food

I admit it.  Sometimes I am guilty of allowing lack of planning on my part to result in fast food runs for my family's dinner.  And while I may make somewhat healthier choices from the limited ones on the menu, the same cannot be said for the rest of the family for various allergy or preferential reasons.  The only thing R can have from a fast food joint is a plain burger, no bun, and plain fruit.  Good thing the girls are such huge veggie eaters.  However, since I've spent the last six months losing 40 pounds and 25 inches, I am now trying to do better at filling my role as health caretaker of the family.  This does not have to rule out convenience or budget either.  Case in point:  the average cost of a fast food run for our family of four generally averaged out at $18.00.  Yikes.  And that stuff certainly is not good for you.  The meal I made tonight cost about $13.50 though I could have added another sausage for another $1.50 ish.  (I had leftover sausage for lunch so didn't feel like it tonight.)

So for the convenience part...  Take advantage of your grocery options.  I happened to make a run to Whole Foods, which isn't the cheapest place, but has so many allergen free options for the girls.  The whole of this meal came from there and still was only $3.75 a serving.  That's not too bad.  So I grabbed a couple of their wonderful mild italian pork sausages which they make right there and have no preservatives or fillers or unpronounceable ingredients.  And they are really good too!  My hubby actually requested them for a second time this week and he is very picky about his sausage.  Plus there is no corn syrup or dextrose in these, which prohibits R from having commercial sausage and meat products for the most part.  I also grabbed a pack of grill veggies:  assorted veggies, canola oil, salt, pepper, parsley, rosemary, basil; all grilled up.  And to add some more green, a lovely spinach, strawberry and goat cheese salad with slivered almonds.  Raspberry vinaigrette: olive/canola oil, raspberry vinegar, orange juice, chives, salt, pepper.  Nothing bad in there either!

Now for the homemade touch.  Cottage fries.  So easy.  And you can prep ahead for later too if you like.  Not a lot of hands on really; you don't have to stand over the stove minding these guys.  I stuck the spuds in to boil for 15 minutes when I got home from the store and then left them on the counter in a towel to cool.  You can cook them ahead and keep them in the fridge for a day or so too.  I like to use small to medium yukon gold potatoes because they brown beautifully and hold together very well.  It is possible to do cottage fries without precooking the potato, but it's a pain and takes much longer.  It only takes a minute to fill a saucepan with water, toss them in and set the timer.  Then you can unload groceries or the dryer or do some bookwork or anything.  Do let them cool a bit before trying to cut them up though, because cutting hot potatoes can be painful without mitts.  Plus they hold together better when cooled.  I only used four medium spuds for us tonight because I am still watching the carbs a bit and was only going to be picking and nibbling.

Cottage Fries

Yukon gold potatoes (1½ - 2 medium spuds per person)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil (garlic oil is good!)
2-3 Tbsp butter
½ medium onion or a few green onions, chopped (either is delicious; the regular onions are somewhat sweeter while the green onions add color)
salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes whole until tender, about 15 minutes or so.  Let them cool before cutting into large chunks.  Melt the butter and oil together in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and potatoes and toss to coat.  You can season them with fresh ground pepper and salt now if you wish.  Now leave them be for five minutes or so.  Don't stir.  Don't mess with them.  Just let them get some beautiful color on one side.  Now take a spatula and start flipping them.  Brown the other side and double check your seasoning.  You can do this all on medium low and just take a bit longer if you are afraid of burning the spuds.  They will hold beautifully on low while the rest of dinner or breakfast or brunch gets finished as well.  But don't expect any leftovers afterwards!

You see them on the top at the toss with the oil and butter point.  You don't have to keep flipping them or messing around.  We're not making mashed potatoes here.  If you leave them alone, you will have a nice crispy golden crust when you flip and it will only take one or two flips to get them all nicely browned.  And you may go as dark as you prefer.  The nice thing about boiling them ahead is no matter how lightly you brown them, they will still be soft and creamy on the inside.  I can't abide a half raw country fry.  Not counting the boiling, which you can (and I did) do ahead, these spuds and the sausages take maybe 20 minutes to finish up.  That's just as long as it takes to run to a fast food joint and back.  And you aren't going to screw up the order.

So there you have it.  It is possible to come up with dinner with almost as much convenience, certainly better nutrition, and actually less money than fast food.  More dirty dishes but less garbage.  Boy, now that I've said it, I have no more excuses.  Wish me luck with the ongoing planning!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Never too many cookies

I don't think you can ever have too many good cookie recipes.  And if you can make them more healthful without telling the difference, so much the better.  This recipe may replace my prior favorite egg free chocolate chip cookies for the girls.  Of course that one is a great snack packing recipe because the cookies end up almost exactly like little chips ahoy cookies.  They each have their merits.  This new one is also 100% white whole wheat, (you can't tell); it's made with natural healthful fats and it is free of refined white sugar.  R pronounced them awesome and I've already had to hide them from the girls for the time being.  If they haven't already spoiled their dinners... ;)

This is an exceptionally creamy dough.  My new ingredient for the day is granulated coconut/palm sugar and I think I love it.  Much better results than the date sugar, that one still needs more experimentation.  I expect it is better suited to moist applications such as quick breads.  Coconut sugar is the evaporated nectar of the coconut palm flower.  It is also low glycemic.  Bonus!  Since it is slightly coarse, I suggest adding it first and creaming it on low while measuring out the other sugars.  If you premeasure all your ingredients, you are entirely too organized and have too much available counter space; this is a Messy Kitchen after all...  Just give it enough time to be creamy and fluffy rather than sugary and gritty.  I was amazed at the light fluffy texture of the creamed butter, oil and sugars.  It almost looked liked whipped cream.  Good stuff.  Since the cookies smell absolutely amazing straight out of the oven, I froze some dough balls to have fresh cookies when company comes next week.  You don't smell the coconut at all, but the butter cookie smell has been elevated to the sublime.  I would swear I had added a butter flavor extract if I didn't know better.  Yes, this one is a keeper.  (Okay, my hubby could detect a hint of coconut, but even though he doesn't particularly like coconut, he said it wouldn't keep him from eating them because he loves chewy cookies.  He said he just wouldn't eat the whole batch at once...)

These cookies almost turned out like the fresh baked Tollhouse cookies you may find at some fast food joints.  Soft and chewy.  Yummy. If you are not allergic to eggs, you may use 1 egg in place of the applesauce for even closer results.  The only thing I may do differently next time is give the coconut sugar a quick whirl in the coffee grinder to make it a little finer.  But now, without further ado...

Chewy Can't Tell They're Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies (Egg free)

½ cup butter, softened
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
½ cup evaporated cane sugar (Costco now carries this in a bulk size)
½ cup light brown muscovado sugar (or brown sugar, but that tends to be refined white sugar with molasses added)
1 tsp pure vanilla
2 Tbsp applesauce (no sugar added)
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¾ cup mini chocolate chips (soy free)
(optional - add ½ cup chopped pecans)

Heat oven to 375º.  In large bowl, beat sugars, butter, oil, vanilla and applesauce with electric mixer on low speed until light and fluffy. Beat in flour, baking soda and salt until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips.  On parchment lined cookie sheets, drop dough by rounded measuring tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart.  Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until very light golden brown. Cool 2 minutes on the sheet; remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.  Enjoy!

adapted from

Monday, January 25, 2010

Simply Gourmet - Maple Glazed Salmon

Pan-Seared Salmon with a Maple Glaze with Green Beans with Parmesan and Lemon.  Now tell me that doesn't sound appetizing or like something you'd find on a spa resort menu.  Actually, it is.  This method was shared by Chef Kathleen Daelemans who at the age of 22 she became the spa chef at a Hawaiian resort.   
You can check out the original article at,2933,582824,00.html: Maple Syrup, the New Sugar?  I mentioned before that this particular meal was such a hit that it disappeared too quickly to even get a shot of it.  We also ended up giving up a large portion of our own to refill Steph's plate at least three or four times.  This time I got a much larger fillet to make sure there was enough to go around.  Now since this is pan-seared, I did end up having to use two pans to do the searing since there is no pan big enough to fit that whole long piece of salmon.  That's okay though, I just got my first cast iron pan and I'm working on getting it seasoned anyway.  You need only use one pan for the glaze.
     I have a little admission to make... I have had a very difficult time cooking salmon in the past.  I either get it underdone or too dry, whether grilling or pan frying, although I have had some success with baking it.  My poor hubby would love salmon on a weekly basis, but it ends up being every few months at best.  Now this recipe...  I could make this on a weekly basis.  It's super simple, just a few ingredients and you end up with a gourmet quality meal.  (The green beans with parm and lemon are quite tasty as well.  Especially if you throw some garlic in the mix too!)  Make sure you get a fillet with skin on, as I'm sure that holds in the moisture while searing.

Pan-Seared Salmon with a Maple Glaze 

1 salmon fillet
salt and pepper
¼ cup chicken stock
juice of half an orange (I used a few tablespoons of organic fresh OJ)
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup (Use the real thing)
fresh thyme or parsley

Salt and pepper the salmon, pan-sear it with two teaspoons of olive oil in a good quality, non-stick pan with a heavy bottom.  Cook skin side up over medium heat for about five minutes. If the fillet is quite thick, add a minute or so.  Turn over, cook a few more minutes, until done.  Remove fish.  Add 1/4 cup of chicken stock, orange juice and pure maple syrup.  Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer until thickened to a nice glaze. Turn off heat and add fresh thyme, parsley or any herb you choose.  You may either return the fish to the pan to glaze it, or pour the reduction over the fish.

See that lovely crust?  Now that keeps your fillet nice and moist.  It worked just as well in the cast iron, though a tiny bit stickier.  Need to season the pan more.  It's a work in progress.  When the fish is done, or darn near done, remove it to a plate and make the glaze.  Only takes a couple minutes.

Getting there...     


Now I think I prefer sticking the fish back into the glaze, (skin side up of course) and letting it glaze and caramelize just a touch.  You can also pour the glaze over the fish but you can end up with too much that way.  If you glaze it in pan, it makes doubly sure that the fish is done and heated through and you get the most wonderful slightly salty sweet crust on the fish.

This fillet could actually use a minute more in the pan to get a good layer of glaze coating it.  Still delicious though.
Once again, tonight S had thirds and even R asked for seconds.  This is definitely a keeper.  My hubby, who is somewhat of a salmon purist, said that he preferred the pan glaze to the poured glaze.  (I did one of each.)  Too much glaze with the poured.  If you shake it around in the pan for a minute, you'll get plenty on there.  Just mind the heat, you want it nicely coated, not burnt sugared.  I suggest turning it to med-low when glazing the fish.  We did the parm-lemon-garlic green beans the first time - fabulous.  Tonight it was our favorite italian salad.

Try this out, you won't be disappointed!  This is going in my "dishes to make for company" file.  (Which is especially nice since my Dad-in-law is vegetarian.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Broccoli Cheddar Soup - Comfort food waits for no camera

Sometimes, or even oftentimes, you finish up a yummy meal or fresh baked good and then go, "Oh fiddle.  I should have taken a picture of that!"  That was the case with the gorgeous maple glazed salmon we had last week.  Absolutely sublime.  Must pass on that recipe.  I'll make it again soon, since S ate her whole portion, half of mine and half of Daddy's too!  I'll get a bigger filet next time.  Today it was my favorite broccoli cheddar soup.


But don't worry, there's more.  I always make a huge batch and it still only lasts a few days.  Sometimes I'll freeze it for later but more often than not, it's gone too fast.  It's a toss up who likes it more, me or my toddler.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
5 or 6 nice stalks of broccoli, use the florets and save the stems for another use (if you want to use the pre-packed florets it's maybe around 4 to 5 cups florets - about enough to fill a 2 quart pot - I fill mine to the brim)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 Qt chicken stock (enough to barely cover the veggies or less - they will cook down)
½ cup whipping cream
1 ½ cups (packed) grated cheddar cheese
dash tabasco (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in heavy medium pot over medium-high heat.  Sauté onion about 5 minutes until tender. Add garlic and tarragon; sauté 1 minute. Add broccoli florets and stock; bring to boil. Simmer uncovered until broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes. Coarsely puree with a stick blender or in a food processor.  Don't get it too smooth, this soup is best a bit chunky.  Stir in cream and grated cheese.  Blend a couple more seconds to combine.  Add tabasco and season to taste.  You probably won't need much if any salt, but fresh ground pepper is always good.  Serve piping hot with soft breadsticks for dipping or crackers or just plain.

I could practically live on this soup.  So could S.  :)  I tried to get her to say cheese but she was too busy shoveling in the soup!

We hope you like it as much as we do!

Update:  Since I make this so regularly, I thought I'd add some prep shots for y'all!

Once again I had forgotten to get more onions, but green onions work just fine too.  Honestly, you don't even have to sauté in the butter, you can just boil it all together until tender.  Super simple.

Boil, blend, add cream and cheese, season, serve.  Voilà!

Have I mentioned how much I love my hand blender?  I just run it under hot water to wash off and it's ready to go for next time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gotta love those food innovations

Sometimes you find a new product that just gets you really excited.  At least I get really excited about food.  After making lunch today, I got so nostalgic about my old food science related jobs that I went and got a new subscription to one of my favorite food innovation magazines.  What spurred this return to food tech?  Parsley.  Yes, humble parsley.  And dried at that.  Well, not exactly...  Freeze dried.  I remember when freeze drying was something totally new and cool and only used by NASA, the military and hard core mountaineers.  I remember buying really expensive freeze dried astronaut ice cream at OMSI.  It was Neapolitan flavor.  And I remember how cool it was to get a few packs of freeze dried food to pack into the mountains while camping, oh so much lighter than the canned goods we would occasionally bring along.  Then outdoor and sporting goods stores like REI started carrying gourmet freeze dried meals.  Also expensive.  You may have seen Mountain House® freeze dried meals and desserts there.  MREs have come a LONG way from what they used to be thanks to improving techniques in the freeze dry process.  If you ever get a chance to tour a freeze drying facility, it is really cool.  We toured Oregon Freeze Dry, Inc. in Albany, OR while I was getting my degree in food science at OSU.  Then we got to use the OSU pilot plant to make our own freeze dried food.  Of course my team chose ice cream at my urging.  It turned out pretty good too though it flaked into layers.  May have been because the sublimation rate was too slow.  If you aren't familiar with the process, the food in question is frozen and dehydrated in a vacuum.  That's a very basic description.  If you want to learn more, go check out Oregon Freeze Dry's website:   "Frozen foods retain fresh flavor and nutritional value, but require uniform, low temperature storage conditions. Dehydrated and canned foods are shelf-stable, but high-temperature processing can degrade flavor, texture and nutritional content. Freeze-drying combines the best of these processing methods. It preserves freshness, color and aroma similar to frozen food, while providing the shelf-stable convenience of canned or dehydrated food."  As you can see from my long ramble, this particular food process is one I find interesting and innovative.
So back to the parsley.  Almost.  A few months ago I saw a jar of freeze dried minced garlic in the produce section.  I am always running out of garlic.  Sometimes I will use the jarred minced garlic, but that is canned and has more of a roasted garlic flavor.  It just lacks that nice pungent bite of fresh garlic.  So I thought I'd try this stuff.  It says right on the package:  As close as you can get to fresh.  It was not kidding.  Good stuff.  It's not hot like fresh, but it does have that fresh garlic flavor that canned minced garlic lacks.  So when I saw that there were more spice offerings the next month, I picked up some parsley.  It was brilliant green.  A far cry from that jar of faded greenish brown dried parsley in the pantry at home.  Check it out:

I used the parsley in a nice chowder both in the soup and as garnish.  I may have to try out some of their other spice offerings...

Now this was soup I made a couple days ago and reheated and the parsley in it is still mostly nice and green.  I know it's not the greatest picture, but that parsley on top looks like fresh doesn't it?  In person, it really does.  And it brightened up the chowder nicely too.  This is good soup.  It's also... shhhhhhhh... low carb.  And one of my favorites.  Everyone in the house loves it.  It's like baked potato soup.  I have to fight my toddler for it or give her a bowl of her own.  For the eating program I am using, Metabolism Miracle, this is a neutral or free food.  Here, try it out:

Miracle "Potato-less" Soup

1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
2 finely chopped green onions (chopped regular onions work in a pinch)
1-2 cloves minced garlic
4 cups chicken broth (I use enough to just cover however much cauliflower I use - I like a thick chowder)
4 oz light sour cream
4 oz shredded light Cheddar cheese
2 T butter (original calls for ¼ cup and I tend to forget it completely)
1 tsp fresh or freeze dried parsley :)  (My addition for color)
6 strips turkey bacon cooked crisp and chopped (or the equivalent in bacon bits)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
(optional - dash of tabasco - brightens up and adds nice flavor)

Gently boil the cauliflower, onions and garlic in the chicken broth.  After 10 to 15 minutes, check for complete tenderness of the cauliflower.  When cauliflower is tender, puree the soup with a stick blender.  If you don't have one, you can take out the cauliflower and puree it in a blender or food processor, then return it to the broth.  It won't be quite as smooth, but still good.  Add in the sour cream, cheese and butter and mix until smooth.  Add the chopped bacon or bacon bits and stir over medium heat.  Stir in the parsley and add salt and pepper to taste.  You can also add more broth at this point if you like a thinner soup.

Serves 6 (yeah right)

Enjoy!  Really, it's good!

Adapted from Diane Kress The Metabolism Miracle

Monday, January 18, 2010

Trying out new things: Naan

So I said in my blog description that I was going to try new and interesting things this year.  And in one of the baking blogs where I have recently been lurking, I found a baking challenge:  Naan.  Now I've never had any type of Indian flatbread, so this will definitely be new and interesting.  My hubby on the other hand has quite a few coworkers from India, so his exposure to Indian food has been much greater than mine.  I'll have him do a taste test when he gets home from work.  Wish me luck!  I will modify the original recipe a bit because I want to try out some different techniques and see how they turn out.  Check out the original recipe at 
(Naan must be in the air right now, because Artisan Breads in Five Minutes posted a gluten free naan today...)

So instead of working in the filling in big chunks, I took a tip from another naan recipe and ground up my filling so I could just enclose it and then roll it out.  As you will see, I ended up with a pita like structure doing that way.  Not bad, but I don't think it should be that way.  Next time, I'll stick with the original directions.  :)

I decided to try two different cooking techniques, the one listed which is a skillet method, and the oven broiler method.  So this first one I brushed with butter and tried with the broiler.  The next one I forgot to butter.  Don't forget to butter.  The rest I did in a skillet.  My conclusions?  The oven method may be reputed to give more authentic results, but it is very persnickety.  I liked the results from the skillet much better but definitely like the flavor the butter added.  

So the bottom one I rolled too thin since I wasn't sure how thin to roll for the first one.  It did have the best incorporation of filling though.  (No pita pocket.)  Then there is the middle left, which I forgot to butter.  I repeat: Don't forget the butter.  Then middle right is my first skillet attempt.  Too much oil I think, but nice and soft.  The last two on the top were I believe the closest to what they should be.  So when hubby got home I asked him to try them out.  He said he was more used to the plain, somewhat bland he said, flatbreads and wasn't quite sure about a sweetish one.  Then he took a few more bites.  And a few more.  And then proclaimed that he could keep coming back to these all night.  So I think I achieved a moderate degree of success.  Now I need to try some good authentic naan to aquaint myself with the proper characteristics.

You can see that the fold and roll left me with a pita-like pocket.  It probably would have been better to work in the whole raisins.  But as I was trying new things, I tried lots of new things at once.  And I learned lots of things too!  I still don't know if naan should have a pocket like that.  I'll have to ask some of my hubby's coworkers.  Good resource! 

Thanks to Cookie Baker Lynn for pushing my baking horizons.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Weekends: playdates, cleaning and baking for the week

Weekends are good times to get things done whether or not you have a 9-5 job.  Or in the case of stay-at-home parents, a 6-10 job with 24 hr on-call.  Whether you drop off or host a playdate, the kids for the most part will entertain themselves, giving you time to clean, bake, do bookwork, etc.  I swear I get more cleaning done when my daughter has a playdate than when she is just playing with her little sister.  (I'm pretty sure it's because they are playing together and entertaining themselves instead of undoing what you've just accomplished five minutes after it is done.)  So over the course of the last two playdates this weekend, I got the dining room cleared out, cleaned off, swept and vacuumed, and 65% of the kitchen counters cleared off.  Plus a few loads of laundry and dishes.  And the kitchen floor mopped.  This is doing really well for me.  That floor sees a mop once in a blue moon.

Now for the sandwich bread for the week.  Between the sourdough in the freezer and the pancakes ready to be toasted, I really only need one loaf this week.  In the interest of getting many things done at once, throw it in the bread machine on the dough cycle while you clean clean clean.  Actually, I don't think I've used anything beside the dough cycle in the last eight years.  I prefer to do my own shaping and finishing even though I'm taking a shortcut.  And this bread sure smells good right now.  A sure sign it's almost ready to take out...

Yup, that's nice bread.  It helps to bake it in the proper sized pan.  Up until recently, all I had were 9 x 5" pans.  So the 8 x 4" recipes necessarily turn out a bit squat in those.  Still tasty, but not as tall and plump as a loaf should look.  Now the difficult part of waiting for it to cool before cutting.  I'll save out a few pieces and bag them up, the rest go in the freezer.  I finally got a decent bread knife for myself last fall.  Nothing ruins a nice fresh loaf of bread more than squishing it into gumminess with a lousy bread knife.  Maybe next I'll invest in an electric knife for cutting perfect slices before it's totally cool.

Ahhh, nothing better than fresh bread with dinner.  This is a great, versatile bread.  It's firm enough to makes great sandwiches, yet nice and light and tender.  It is also almost 2/3 whole wheat.  Doesn't taste like whole wheat though, I do love that white whole wheat flour!  Although this recipe doesn't use (or need) it, one trick to dealing with the bitter flavor that you can get with traditional whole wheat flour is to add a bit of orange juice.  Something in it seems to counteract the bitter flavor without actually adding an orange juice taste to the baked good.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

1 ¼ c lukewarm water
2 T canola oil
¼ c honey
2 c white whole wheat flour
1¼ c unbleached all purpose flour
¼ c bakers special dry milk (high heat treated dry milk - you may omit this if you do not wish to get a special ingredient. Instead, substitute 1 cup scalded milk for 1 cup of the water.)
1 T vital wheat gluten
1 ½ t salt

Make life easier by using the dough cycle on the bread machine if you have one.  Add ingredients in order listed and let her go.  Rise time will be about 1 to 1 ½ hours.  Deflate the dough and shape to fit in a greased 8 ½ x 4 ½" loaf pan.  Let rise until doubled, about an hour.  Bake in a preheated 375ºF oven for 35 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf reads 190ºF.  Remove the bread from the oven, remove it from the pan and cool on a rack.  For extra flavor and a soft crust, brush the top with butter when you take it out.

Makes 1 loaf

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The things that make it all worthwhile

If you have kids then you have trials and tribulations.  If you have girls then you have drama.  But sometimes ya gotta just shake your head and smile.  Like those times when little sister falls asleep on the couch next to big sis, who stops her game and finds a blanket to tuck little sister very tenderly in with a gentle kiss to the forehead.  Or when your two year old clears her place at the table even before big sister sets the example.  This is why I willingly will make the sourdough pancakes and bacon for them on a school morning.  Granted, that's not such a big deal this year since we only have afternoon kindergarten...  Mommy is not a morning person.  Next year is gonna hurt.  :S  But they're worth it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The old standby

Do you have a dinner or two that just seem to be on the menu every week?  Or more often...  Something that's easy and pretty quick to put together?  This one is mine.  Everyone loves it and it was how I finally learned to cook a moist chicken breast.  It's all about technique, I have found.  And a good seasoning mix, although any favorite seasoning will work fine.  I used to use a homemade blackened seasoning, but I changed it to be a little less spicy for the girls.  (I was having to cut all that lovely flavored crust off the chicken for my eldest.)  I make double or triple batches and keep it in old spice shakers with wide holes.

Original Blackened Seasoning mix

1 T steak seasoning (I use McCormick Montreal Steak)
1 t chili powder
1 t paprika
½ t cayenne pepper

Mix well, store in an airtight jar.

Paprika Seasoning mix

1 T steak seasoning (I still use McCormick Montreal Steak)
1½ T paprika
1 t chili powder
pinch of cayenne pepper

Mix well, store in an airtight jar.

How to get moist, juicy chicken or pork chops:

Any old seasoning will do, lemon pepper and garlic powder, your favorite rub or try one of mine.  Liberally season your meat, and let it sit for at least 10 minutes.  It won't kill you.  If you're leery of room temp, and I understand that coming from a food science and microbiology major, then stick it in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.  You'll be able to tell if you don't let it marinade for a while.  It won't be as moist.  And for some reason, paprika in particular really makes for a moist chicken breast.  Start prepping your side in the meantime.  Heat up some olive oil in a pan with a tight fitting lid.  I love garlic olive oil.  Medium heat.  Once that's nice and hot, stick the chicken or chops in and sear one side for five minutesNo lid, and you don't have to touch it at all for five minutes.  Now flip them, stick on the lid and turn the heat down to medium low or low.  I cook mine on the lower side of medium low.  Cook for another 10 minutes or until done.  Let it sit for a minute before serving.  That's not usually a problem for me!  This way of cooking is very forgiving if you forgot to start the salad or what have you...  If you finish on low, you can leave the lid on and the meat will stay moist and juicy for quite a few extra minutes.  Or you can turn it off too.  The holdover heat will keep it warm fine with the lid on.  Of course the thickness of the breast or chop makes a difference.  Those nice little ¾" pork chops finish in about 12 minutes total, but the obnoxiously large chicken breasts that will feed a family of four with two of them will take 15 plus and may require a second flip.  Finishing on low also helps the juiciness.  That little rest time gives the juices time to get back into the meat rather than just running all out on the first cut and leaving you with a dry breast.  Same reason you give a turkey 20-30 minutes of rest time before carving.  Plus it gives you time to set the table or dress the salad.  ;)  Now to figure out something for the rest of the week...

Sweet, crunchy, sugar free?

Sometimes you just need something to munch on that is sweet.  If it's crunchy too, so much the better.  When I first did the low carb portion of the Metabolism Miracle, this was one of my mainstay snacks.  It satisfies your sweet tooth and is filling too.  Just be careful not to overdo it, these are addictive, but not calorie free!  If you don't mind using Splenda, these will definitely be a pleasant surprise.  One of these days I may modify this recipe to use a natural sugar free sweetener like Stevia.  We'll see, stevia can be bitter if you use too much.

Sugar Free Candied Nuts

12 oz pecans (or nuts of your choice)
½ c sugar free Davinci or Torani syrup (flavor of choice)
¼ c butter, melted
½ c Splenda (or ¼ c splenda, ¼ c erythritol and a few drops stevia)
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp black pepper

For a twist, and if you don't mind the extra carbs, add ½ tsp dried orange peel and ½ c dried cranberries and increase the pepper to ½ tsp.  Use a syrup like caramel or vanilla, even hazelnut, something simple, and you will end up with a close approximation of the storebought Valdosta pecans.  Just check them sooner and toss them more often to avoid scorching.

Preheat your oven to 350º.  In a medium bowl, toss the nuts with the butter and syrup.  Combine the splenda and spices and toss them with the nuts until evenly coated.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  (It will be safer if the sheet has sides.)  Pour the nuts and any liquid in the bowl onto the sheet and spread into a single layer.  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes and then start tossing the nuts every 10 minutes until they are just crispy.  Once all the liquid is absorbed, watch them closely as they will go quickly from crispy to scorched and will crisp up more once they cool.  You may want to turn down the oven to 325º at the end to be safe.  Cool on the sheet and store in an airtight container.  If using erythritol, watch carefully, as the browning will occur more easily.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Try, try again...

New ingredients or requirements can both fun and a royal pain.  I tend to try smaller batches when I am experimenting.  I am working with date sugar now as a replacement for refined white sugar.  I need to find a good source for muscovado sugar as well, or at least a brown sugar that isn't simply molasses and white sugar.  I tried a cranberry pecan jumble, but while it smelled heavenly and looked nice, the flavor of the dough was somewhat lacking.  I may try adding some honey and lemon zest for better texture and brighter flavor.

Sometimes it takes many tries to find something that works.  Anyone who likes to experiment in the kitchen knows this.  My five year old was sorely missing pancakes after we had to start avoiding eggs.  I must have tried half a dozen different recipes and substitutions to try to find a pancake that passed muster.  I really couldn't get the old favorite light fluffy pancake recipe to work.  Flaxseed made them too gummy.  There were one or two recipes that were just okay, but I finally ended up going back to a favorite sourdough recipe.  And why not, the sourdough already had nicely developed gluten which provides structure, binding properties and leavening.  Maybe I could just leave out the egg...  And it worked!  The girls already loved sourdough pancakes, and they loved them just as much without the egg.  The original recipe is super simple and can be found at  I keep my starter fairly thick, maybe around 90-95% hydration.  I find it is much more resilient the thicker it is.  I also tried keeping it as a whole wheat starter for some time and the girls didn't mind, they still loved the pancakes, but I found the whole wheat to be entirely too finicky for my needs.  My starter lives in the fridge and sometimes I may neglect it for a couple weeks.  Or more...  The white flour starter seems to handle that much better.  Now this morning I made this with straight out of the fridge starter that has not been fed for maybe a week or more.  Fresh mature starter will give you even fluffier results.

 Those things are still sky high and super fluffy.  I like to give them one extra flip before serving because a crispy crust is easier to cut.  As a matter of fact, I love to stick the leftovers in the freezer for later because these are fabulous popped into the toaster.  The inside gets even lighter and fluffier.  It's almost like eating a super light biscuit in a pancake suit.  My eldest says she almost prefers them toasted.  But seriously, they're great either way.  It is a good make ahead option for breakfasts though.

Fluffy sourdough pancakes (Egg free)
(10-12 pancakes)

511g mature sourdough starter (thick)
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp canola oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp starch free baking powder

Stick it all in a large bowl and mix it all together quickly with a wooden spoon or whisk.  Cook them up on a hot greased griddle.  I set mine at around 375º.  These won't brown quite as much as ones with eggs, so check when the edges start to dry.  They are so tall and fluffy, you want to be sure they are done in the middle.  Serve 'em up with butter and maple syrup and enjoy!

Adapted from and Breads from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton

Friday, January 8, 2010

Refilling the allergy free snack bucket

I am so lucky to have a couple of veggie loving girls.  They are just as likely to raid the fridge and pull out a head of celery to split between them as a piece of cheese or fruit.  Their favorite veggies are celery, cucumbers, broccoli and red or orange bell peppers.  My eldest will eat the bell pepper like an apple, but I find it less messy to slice it up for her.  Then the girls can split one.  Still, it's nice to have a treat once in a while.  Or more often...  ;)

When my daughter's food allergies were first tested, dairy was a very minor one but we still needed to avoid it for the elimination period.  In my searching for recipes, I came across this fabulous dairy and egg free chocolate chip cookie recipe and modified it to suit our needs.  If you like a cookie that is crisp and chewy out of the oven, and then nice and crunchy later, this recipe is perfect.  I finally found non hydrogenated shortening that was both soy and corn free at Whole Foods.  There are two that I use.  Spectrum shortening is made from palm oil and Jungle shortening is made from Palm fruit oil and high oleic Sunflower oil.  The Spectrum is white like crisco, but it tends to break into chunks if your home runs cool.  The Jungle shortening is more of a creamy pale yellow color and much creamier and easier to measure.  The dairy allergy turned out to be so minor that we were able to successfully add it back in after the elimination.  So I suppose we could use butter in these recipes, but they are so good just as they are that I still make them with the shortening.  There is less saturated fat in the shortening anyway.  If you're a whole wheat panty waist new to baking with whole grains you can use all purpose flour here.  But do try at least the ¾ cup as white whole wheat.  You'll never be able to tell it's there and it's a good way to introduce whole grains to your family.  White whole wheat is milled from hard white spring wheat, rather than traditional red wheat.  So it makes lighter-colored, milder-tasting baked goods.  Give it a try!  (My hubby says this is dangerous cookie dough because he could easily eat even more of it than with the standard tollhouse recipe.)

Awesome Chocolate Chip Cookies (Dairy, soy, egg and corn free)

2/3 c. Spectrum or Jungle shortening
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ c. unsweetened applesauce
1 ¾ c. white whole wheat flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
¾ c. mini dairy/soy free chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a mixer combine the shortening, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and applesauce. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add to shortening mixture and mix until creamy. Stir in chocolate chips and drop with a cookie scooper onto prepared baking sheet.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool slightly on baking sheet then move to wire rack.

Adapted from

Now before I made the trip to Whole Foods and finally found acceptable shortening, I decided in my frustration to try the recipe with canola oil.  That turned out to be a great experiment and made great cookies as well.  If you like soft, cakey cookies, like my hubby does, this version will please you.
Cranberry Cookies (Dairy, egg, soy and corn free)
½ c. canola oil
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ c. unsweetened applesauce
1 ¾ c. white whole wheat flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixer combine the shortening, brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and applesauce. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to shortening mixture and mix until creamy. Stir in chocolate chips and drop with a cookie scooper onto prepared baking sheet.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool slightly on baking sheet then move to wire rack.

These are also very good with cinnamon applesauce, but cut back on the sugar by 1 or 2 Tbsp since that applesauce is sweetened.  If you like nuts in your cookies, think about adding ½ cup of chopped pecans.  They are fabulous that way too!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Yes Virginia, there is a CORN FREE MARSHMALLOW!

And it ROCKS!  Just about the best marshmallow you've ever had.  My eldest daughter begged and begged for a marshmallow she could eat and I spent months searching the internet for a marshmallow recipe that didn't use corn syrup OR egg whites.  I don't remember exactly how I stumbled across the reference to this wonderful cookbook:  Marshmallows: Homemade Gourmet Treats by Eileen Talanian, but it is the most awesome cookbook I have owned in a very long time.  Go buy a copy.  Seriously.  It's available on amazon in a beautiful hardcover.  Check out the table of contents and index for all the amazing recipe listings.  It ranges from the basic vanilla to the exotic long pepper, lime cilantro and honey lavender flavors.  It not only contains dozens and dozens of recipes for both marshmallows and marshmallow fluff (contains egg whites), but also fabulous desserts that use them as well.  For instance, the cover picture.  It is beautifully published, formatted and photographed.  It would make a great coffee table book even if you don't try the recipes.  But you should.  The marshmallows are so fabulous and there is no drizzling hot syrup into the gelatin either.  Now, you can make her recipes with light corn syrup, but I take the time to make the marshmallow syrup because they taste cleaner and better and the whole point for me was to avoid the corn. 

If you would like to see the process, check out the book's website: and check out the different sections to view step by step pictures.  Edit: The website doesn't seem to be supported for pictures anymore, but the book does have fabulous pictures and pretty clear instructions.  The first time I made them they were fabulous.  Everyone who tried them thought they were great and just like a regular marshmallow, only tastier.  The next time, I tried the cinnamon mocha marshmallow recipe.  WOW.  The girls went crazy over them and the batter was positively sinful.

Texturally, they are really quite like storebought, only softer, fluffier and less gummy.

The cinnamon mocha batter.  Looks like chocolate buttercream doesn't it?  Doesn't even compare, this stuff was so amazingly good.

Finished product - I used cinnamon powdered sugar (with tapioca starch, not corn) for my coating.  I suppose I could have used straight cocoa for a less speckled look, but these were seriously tasty this way.

If you can have a candy thermometer and a stand mixer, marshmallows are well within your reach. 

By the way, I tried one recipe with egg whites and did not like at all how it turned out.  Too much like meringue and not enough like marshmallow.  However I did try someone else's egg white-using marshmallows over the holidays that were much better and pretty much proper marshmallow texture.  So maybe the recipe made the difference there.  I still prefer this book and egg white free marshmallows.