Risotto with Asparagus

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been in a sugar coma.

You may have noticed that many of my recent posts have been sweets. I have a ton more goodies to post, but I felt a tad guilty about posting so many recipes using processed white sugar, when my goal is to help people get OFF processed foods. Processed sugar is my one huge weakness (meaning: addiction). It’s also my kryptonite.

Unfortunately, when I’ve had the time and energy to make a fabulous blog-worthy dinner, I’ve rarely had the patience to hold off four starving kids and a starving hubby long enough to take pictures and such. Desserts are another story. I can make them any time of day and take pretty pictures.

But, I finally pulled it off and took some decent pics of this dinner before serving it. But, please forgive me if the next 20 posts are all desserts.

Risotto: risotto is a high-starch, short-grained rice. It is cooked differently than normal rice. It is first browned in oil, then cooked in broth, stirring continuously while adding the broth in small amounts. Honestly, the first time I made risotto, I said to myself “you’ve got to be kidding! that’s a lot of work!”, but it really isn’t that bad. I had a good book I was reading, and just read while stirring. You will find risotto rice, typically the arborio variety, in the specialty food section of your grocery store. My local store has an Italian section that has specialty items from Italy, like extra expensive olive oils, sauces and vinegars. That is probably where you’ll find the arborio rice.

RISOTTO WITH ASPARAGUS

1 pound of thin asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
7 cups chicken stock
3 cups uncooked arborio rice
1 TBS butter
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (do NOT use the cheap powder stuff you get in a can, go to the cheese section and get real parm).
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and trim the asparagus. Do this by removing the bottom inch or so and discarding. An easy way to do this is to hold the spear upright and bend it down from the top until it breaks off. Where it naturally breaks off is where it goes from tender to fibrous. I usually do this to a few at a time, then put them back in the bunch and cut off the bottoms of the entire bunch where those few broke off. I hope that makes as much sense to you as it did to me as I was writing it. In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the asparagus and stir fry until cooked but firm (where you can fairly easily snap it in two with whatever utensil you are using to stir fry it, but before it becomes soggy). Remove the asparagus to a plate, reserving as much of the oil in the pan as possible. While cooking the asparagus, heat up your chicken broth, either in the microwave , or in a saucepan. Add the garlic and the arborio rice to the hot pan. Stir fry those with for 2-3 minutes, until they start to brown. Stir in one cup of hot broth. Start your timer, setting it for 14 minutes. Stir and cook until broth is almost completely absorbed. Add another cup of broth. You will continue to add the broth by cupfuls, stirring until each cup is absorbed before adding the next. You will use between 6-7 cups of broth, and the total time will be between 14-20 minutes. At about 14 minutes, start testing your risotto. It should be “al dente”, which means it still has some substance, it doesn’t dissolve or turn to glue in your mouth, but isn’t crunchy or chewy. If it seems a bit hard, continue adding broth and testing every couple of minutes. When you believe it has the right cooked texture, remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir until both are melted and incorporated. Add in the asparagus and serve immediately. This recipe is about 6 main portions or 12 side portions.

REAL food alert: please, please, please use real parm cheese. Pretend you have never heard of Kraft canned parmesan powdery cheese. Trust me. Also, check your chicken stock for additives and msg.
ALLERGY alert: you can leave out the butter and cheese, but it won’t be as creamy. A non-dairy margarine could be used, or a dollop of coconut oil (though the taste may bug you).

Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

MEMORY MONDAYS

It was a sunny summer Arizona day. I was a bored 13-year-old who had a serious hankering for something sweet. I had all day with nothing to do, most of my family were off doing whatever fun activities they had set up for themselves. I decided to attempt to make cinnamon rolls. My mom made them occasionally, so I dug out her recipe and was off on my very first yeast baking experience!

As I measured out the flour and kneaded the dough, I thought, “This is easy! I could make these everyday!” I left the dough to rise. The recipe said “double”. Forget the fact that I am horrible at visual estimation, I figured 20 minutes or so would be a good amount of time, so I could get them finished before my sisters got home. After about 25 minutes, it looked like it had risen a lot…maybe it was about double.

I rolled them out (Hmmm…how thick? How thin?). I spread the melted butter and did what the recipe said to do: sprinkled sugar and cinnamon. I rolled them up and cut them and put them all side by side in one 9×13 pan. Wait, I have to let the rise AGAIN? Sheesh…   *Sigh* By this time I am dying to eat these things, and it has already taken FOREVER to make them up to this point (remember, I’m 13…an age not known for it’s patience).

I let them sit for about 10 minutes and am delighted that they look all puffy and risen. I preheat the oven and pop them in. I’m so excited to pull them out of the oven, and top them with a basic buttercream frosting (yeah, I think my sisters and I all learned to make a chocolate buttercream frosting before we could talk) and EAT THEM! Mmmmm, these are amaz…amazi…amazingly hard. Like hockey pucks. And flavorless.

It would be many, many, many, many years before I would attempt to bake with yeast again.

Through my cooking and baking adventures, I commonly hear from people “I can’t make anything with yeast”. I completely understand. I had more failures than just that teenaged cinnamon roll disaster, and I finally just decided, “I’m not a yeast baker”. Somehow the yeast baking gene skipped over me.

In college, one day, I wanted homemade cinnamon rolls. I said to myself, “People make homemade cinnamon rolls all.of.the.time. Why in the heck can’t I?” I set out to follow a recipe to-the-tee and see if I could pull it off. I did. They were fabulous. They weren’t perfect, but finding a recipe with precise directions that I followed exactly helped me get a feel for yeast baking. Over the years, as I overcame my fear of yeast failure, I’ve become pretty darn good at it.

The key to yeast baking is experience. That means lots and lots of failure. Lots of hockey pucks and doorstops and fallen breads. The more you experience the dough, the yeast, and how they react in your environment and your oven, the better you’ll get at it.

This is turning out to be a super long post, so thanks for sticking with me. CINNAMON ROLLS (that was for those who skipped all the above part and wanted to get to the pertinent info). Here’s the thing with cinnamon rolls: patience. Make them on a day you have a lot of time, you’re not in a hurry. You need to make sure they are rising as much as needed. Second: roll them thin. You know those cinnamon rolls you get in the mall? They have a ton of layers, and they are nice and soft and gooey. That’s from rolling it super thin so that you get lots of thin layers. Third: do not over stuff the pan. You’ll notice in my pictures that I only put eight rolls in a 9×13 pan. Yeast rolls actually get three times to rise. First, when you double the dough. Second, after shaping, you let them double in the pan. Third, when they cook, they expand again. If you have extra space around them, it gives them lots of room to expand, which results in a softer end product. You also want to frost them hot, straight out of the oven. The frosting will keep the rolls soft as it seeps into the hot roll. Make sure every exposed surface is covered.

GOOEY CINNAMON ROLLS

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, room temperature
3 1/2-4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

If you haven’t yet, take your eggs out of the fridge so they can warm up to room temperature. In a bowl, or your stand mixer, combine the milk, yeast and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, until it is frothy. Meanwhile, melt your butter and let it cool a bit. Stir the butter into the yeast mixture, then add in the eggs and stir to combine. Stir in 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until  the dough just comes together. Do not add too much flour, or your rolls will be tough. Knead for 5 minutes with your dough hook, or for several minutes by hand, until the dough is soft, elastic and bounces back when you touch it. If you are using a stand mixer, the dough should stay on the hook and not stick to the sides of your mixing bowl. You may need to sprinkle extra flour in every so often to keep it from sticking. Place a towel over the bowl and let sit and rise until double, about an hour.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 16×21 inch rectangle. This is easier said than done, it takes some practice, but don’t worry too much if it has uneven edges. The key here is not the measurement given above, but that it is rolled thin. It can be bigger that 16×21. In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar. Use a rubber scraper to spread the soft butter across the surface of the dough. Leave a 1/2 inch border just on the side farthest from you, where you will seal the roll of dough, free from butter. Evenly spread the cinnamon mixture on top of the butter. Starting at the long edge, start to roll the dough. You want it fairly tightly rolled. I tend to stretch it a bit as I go, pulling the roll towards me as I go. It’s normal to have to do one side, then the other. This is a nice, soft dough and will take some finessing to get it to roll evenly. Don’t worry if it’s lopsided. When you get to the end, pinch the edge shut as well as you can. Place the seam side down. Cut the jagged edge piece off each side. Don’t throw them away, those are rolls, too! Now, cut your nice, neat roll into 12 equal portions. I usually cut the log down the middle, then in quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds. You will see all sorts of tips on cutting cinnamon rolls. The only trick you really need is to use a serrated knife (the kind with a jagged edge), and “saw” the rolls, do NOT press down with the knife, or you will mash them. If you lightly saw them with a nice, sharp, serrated knife, you won’t have any problems.

Spray your pans with cooking spray, or lightly grease with some oil. I typically use one 9×13 pan and one slightly smaller oblong pan that fits six rolls (remember, you have the two edge ‘reject’ rolls). You can use a 9×9 pan and ditch the reject rolls if you want, or depending on their size, combine then into one roll and place it in the middle of the 9×9 pan. You want to only put 8 rolls in the 9×13 pan, and the remaining 4-6 rolls in whatever other pan you choose. Cover each pan with a towel and let rise again, about 30 minutes.

Preheat your over to 375 degrees. Bake the rolls for 15-18 minutes, until light brown and moist, but not doughy on the inside (just use your psychic abilities, or use a fork to kind of pull the middle of one roll to one side to see the texture of it).

While the rolls are baking, or while they are rising, or whenever (you could pre-make this frosting and freeze it, if you want), whip together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Immediately frost after removing them from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes, so you don’t scorch the inside of your mouth (this is the hardest part of the recipe).

If you want fresh baked rolls for breakfast (we have them every Christmas morning), you can make these and freeze them after shaping (just get the disposable foil pans and put 6 in each pan). Pull them out of the freezer the night before and let them defrost and slowly rise in the fridge all night. Pull them out of the fridge when you wake up, preheat the oven and bake. for best results, bring to room temp before baking, but even if you don’t do that, they’ll still be amazing.

See? Not perfect! Still amazingly yummy!

Lots of space for these guys to rise.

Prepping for School

Did you miss me? This is the last week of summer for three of my four kids, and the first week my teacher husband was back to work. We spent all last week shoving every activity we planned to do this summer into a week-long family activity fest. I have several recipes coming down the pike that I made this summer, but I thought I’d change things up and use this post to tell you how I’m prepping for school to start.

The last two years, my kids have eaten hot lunches at school. It made me cringe every time they would come home and tell me what they had for lunch. Last year they even ate breakfast at school. First, let me say that our school serves above-average tasting food. They also allow for unlimited salad and fresh fruit, which is great. Our district also follows our state health policy for lunches. You know, so many servings of vegetables, “low” sugar content, a certain fiber content, etc. I acknowledge that it’s a valiant effort, and it’s definitely better than nothing. But, there are a few problems with it, in my opinion. First, the almighty Dairy Council (cue either angelic singing or a morose funeral durge, depending on your opinion) has lobbied and succeeded to make flavored milk exempt from the sugar content rule. Did you know that flavored milk has at least as much sugar as soda? Your child’s chocolate or strawberry milk has 27-31 grams of sugar per serving. Second, I believe strongly in training a palate. It’s one reason that dieting using processed foods (like, low-fat instead of full-fat pizza) will never succeed in the long run. In my family, I cook home-made, from-scratch, nutritious, flavor-packed meals. I tend to make ethnic foods from all walks of life and expect my children to experiment with taste and enjoy trying new things. My third son’s favorite meal when he was 2? Baked salmon and asparagus. The problem I have found is that within a month of eating school “healthy” food, they lose their adventurous palates and start refusing to eat my dinners. Can you blame them? They are eating processed chicken nuggets and pizza and french toast sticks for breakfast and lunch. Yeah, the pizza has a whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese, and the nuggets are baked and not fried…but it still trains their palate to want to eat that type of food.

So, we decided, NO MORE! We are a processed-food-free family, I have to admit that the decision was difficult. We qualify for free meals at the school, so this is an expense we would not normally have, but we believe it is worth it. Both for the health of our kiddos, and for the peace of mealtime, the extra effort is worth it.

This post is how I am planning to do breakfast and lunches for my kids, to give them choices and give me less of a headache.

First: breakfast. I would love to say that I plan to get up and make my kids breakfast every morning. But, I’m a realist. Maybe some days I will, but in general, I just know it won’t happen. We stopped eating cereal when we stopped getting raw milk. Cereal is one of the worst breakfasts you can have. Milk has a naturally high sugar content, and cereal is mostly empty carbs (yes, there are whole grain cereals that are better). I find when we eat cereal that our blood sugar is raised, it gives us great energy, then we crash mid morning. Days that I have cereal for breakfast, it sets me into a mood swing cycle that is hard to recover from. Protein is key for us for breakfast. I have one child who won’t eat protein for breakfast, my goal for him is to lower his sugar intake for breakfast. Even though milk has protein, he responds better to oatmeal for breakfast than cereal, for some reason. We’re not fans of processed milk here, anyway, since two of our littles have dairy allergies (only to processed milk, raw milk they have no issues with. That is a post for another day…)

Three options for breakfast on days I don’t make something fresh:

#1: Whole Wheat Breakfast Pockets

#2: Breakfast Burritos: Scrambled eggs and natural sausage (no msg or perservatives: Jimmy Dean just came out with natural sausage that is super good!) wrapped in a tortilla and frozen. Microwave for 40 seconds to heat

# 3: Oatmeal packets: My oatmeal kid’s favorite type is apple cinnamon. I pre-make oatmeal packets using snack-sized ziploc bags. In each I put 2/3 cup whole oats, 1 TBS sucanat, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, about 1 TBS dried apple, cut into small pieces with kitchen shears. Use these just like regular oatmeal packets: add water and microwave for 1-2 minutes. I’ve also made strawberry ones, using dried strawberries. You can make whatever kind your kids like, and control the sugar amount and type yourself.

Lunch. The trick to lunch is going to be keeping them from getting bored. The plan is each lunch will have a main dish, a piece of fresh produce, a savory snack, and a sweet snack.

The sweet snack is a family favorite. The recipe is flexible and for a sweet snack, healthy in the way that it has no processed sugars, it’s low in sugar, and it’s chock full of healthy fats for energy and brain function. They are called energy bites, and the recipe is below. I make 3-4 batches and freeze them. For school, I placed 3 in each snack bag and froze the bags. Yes, it’s a lot of plastic bag waste, but I’m going for convenience here. Maybe someday I’ll be superwoman and do it all. for now, I’m satisfied feeding my kids healthy, unprocessed foods. Oh, and the reason I put them in individual bags is because it stops my kids (or me) from taking 20 every day, which they would do. They are that good.

The produce will be anything they choose from the array we have at all times, typically apples, mini carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, and whatever in-season snack fruit is on sale (right now, peaches and berries).

The savory snack is typically cheese sticks or bags of pretzels. Sometimes, I may make Soft Pretzels, but I typically reserve those for an after-school snack.

The main dish, for right now, will be a choice of dinner leftovers, bean burritos (my homemade beans, cheese and salsa in a tortillas and frozen) or “Hot Pockets”, which is my Breakfast Pockets recipe, but each one is a slice of cheese and 1 slice of natural lunch meat (we like Boars’ Head Ovengold turkey breast, and Hormel’s naturals, which has an uncured ham and I just discovered an uncured salami, which has made my 11-yr old’s year).

I calculated costs and figured that it’s costing us about $2 per lunch per kid. Not too shabby.

So, whether your kiddos are back to school this week, next month or in September, you can start prepping those healthy lunches and snacks now!

ENERGY BITES

makes 35-40 bites, depending on size

1 cup natural peanut butter (check the label, the ingredients should only be peanuts and salt, or just peanuts.)
1/2 cup raw honey, or agave syrup if you prefer
2 cups whole oats
1 cup shredded or flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Mix the peanut butter and honey well. Add dry ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Roll into balls, or use a small cookie scoop (I found this to be easiest). You can refrigerate these and use within a week (Ha! They won’t last more than 2 days), or freeze.

REAL food alert: check the chocolate chips for artificial flavors.
HEALTH alert: to keep these healthy, you really need to use unsweetened peanut butter and unsweetened coconut, otherwise, you might as well make cookies.
ALLERGY alert: the peanut butter can be substituted for any nut butter, like almond, or sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds). You can eliminate or swap any of the add-ins (like the coconut, flaxseed and chocolate chips). You can use dried fruit, nuts, chia seeds, or anything else your imagination can come up with (try cocoa!).
VEGGIE alert: These are naturally vegan, depending on the add-ins. Eliminate the chocolate chips and add in dried fruit or vegan carob chips.

Recipe adapted from Smashed Peas and Carrots

Chewy Cinnamon Ginger Cookies

TECHNIQUE TUESDAY

(okay, technically Wednesday…I’m a day behind)

So, I was recently told by a friend that I didn’t have any cookie recipes on my blog. What?!? She’s craaaaazzzzyyyy… when I was a teenager, the one thing I always made while I fantasized about being on my own cooking show was cookies.

Then I checked. Seriously? How has my blog survived for this long without a cookie recipe? Sheesh!

So, here are some IMPORTANT tips about making cookies. Seriously. Learn them. Love them. Live them.

Rule #1: Margarine, or butter spread IS NOT butter. Butter is only the stuff that says “Butter” on the label, and the ingredients are cream and salt. Or just cream, if it’s unsalted butter. Nothing else will work if your recipe calls for butter. And, to be honest, only recipes that call for butter are worth making. Sorry my vegan friends…

Rule #2: In all baking recipes that call for butter, what they mean is UNSALTED butter, unless designated. Personally, I almost always use salted, then cut the salt measurement in half. In my recipes, I tend to note salted butter, because I’m a rebel.

Rule #3: Okay, another one about butter…the butter should be room temp. It should be soft, but not melty. I take my butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes before making cookies. You can take your eggs out at the same time, as I have read countless remarks by professional bakers that eggs should always be room temp (though I have made thousands of cookies with cold eggs in my lifetime that were pretty dang good). You should be able to press into the butter easily, but it should not completely collapse or fall apart when you touch it. If you HAVE TO use the micro, zap it for 6 seconds or so, then whip it with your mixer until it’s smooth and has no lumps before adding your sugar.

Rule #4: MIXING: This is KEY to tender cookies. When mixing in the dry ingredients (quick lesson on cookie making: it will almost always go like this: Beat together sugar and butter, add egg and vanilla, mix in “dry” ingredients, then fold in chunks). DO NOT over mix. (YES, I realize that I MAY be overUSING my caps button…But these things are IMPORTANT! I take cookie baking VERY seriously).

For perfect cookies that aren’t tough, mix dry ingredients just until the flour almost disappears…so you still see some remnants of flour (not big chunks, but sprinkling throughout) in your dough. Stop mixing (especially if you are using a stand or hand mixer). Now is when you add your chunks: fruit, chocolate chips, nuts (heaven forbid…nuts do not belong in cookies, you crazy person). Then  finish the mixing BY HAND. Do not overmix the dough.

Rule #5: Pull the cookies out when the outside is cooked, but the inside is still moist. They will still be cooking when you pull them out of the oven, and will finish cooking as they cool. I posted pictures on this. You should still be able to see a glistening of moisture in the cracks, but the outside is cooked and the edges are firm. If you are a novice to cookie baking, this takes some observation and practice. Pretty soon, you’ll know exactly how they should look when it’s time to take them out.

Rule #6: This is a bonus baking rule that popped into my mind while writing the above rule. The time given in a recipe is an ESTIMATE. Everyone’s oven is different, everyone lives in a different climate (well, except for those who live in the same climate as you, you know what I mean…), the ingredient measurements will vary slightly, different pans cook differently, etc. You should use the time as a guideline, but your nose and your eyes, and sometimes your hands, have the final say on when something is done. I always trust my nose. As soon as I start to smell whatever I’m baking, I go check on it. If you’re making a cake or quick bread, use a knife or wooden skewer or toothpick to see if the inside is done. For cookies, start checking 2 minutes before the designated time. so, for these cookies, start checking at 8 minutes. They could go as long as 12 minutes, depending on your oven, etc.

Speaking of THESE cookies…

These are a crowd pleaser. They are something different when you don’t have chocolate chips and aren’t in the mood for peanut butter cookies or snickerdoodles. They are crisp on the outside and perfectly chewy on the inside and have just the right amount of spice and sweetness. They are perfect with a tall glass of cold milk. (But, who am I kidding, aren’t all cookies)?

CHEWY CINNAMON GINGER COOKIES

1 cup salted butter (or you can use unsalted and add 1/4 tsp of salt), room temp
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 TBS molasses
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 TBS cinnamon
1/2 TBS ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a stand mixer, beat your butter and sugar for 3 minutes until it’s fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and molasses and mix well. Add in your flour, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger. Mix only until the flour is mostly incorporated. Finish the mixing by hand, and stop immediately when the flour disappears. Drop by heaping spoonfuls on a foil- or parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ahhhh…Cream of Whatever soup…when you hear this, does it bring to mind thick, gelatinous condensed soups from a can? My mom was masterful with condensed soup. So was I: give me a miniscule grocery budget and some condensed soup, and I can perform miracles. That changed 6 years ago when we stopped eating soy and processed foods (read that story here). In college one of my favorite meals was cream of mushroom soup, from a can, condensed, with added water. It turns my stomach to think of it now. But, I still love an earthy, creamy Cream of Mushroom Soup. So, I set out to make one from scratch. I was a little wary, because I have two kids who don’t like mushrooms. One hates them. I was amazed when my mushroom hater asked for his third helping. (This is also my super-picky eater who loves nothing and strongly dislikes soup of all kinds). Every person in my family declared this one “a keeper”!

CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP

makes 8 servings

12 ounces mushrooms, any variety
1/2 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 TBS fresh thyme (removed from stems)
2 TBS olive oil
3 TBS butter
1 TBS worcestershire sauce
3 cups chicken stock
4 TBS cornstarch
3 TBS water
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
sea salt
cracked pepper

Prep: Chop mushrooms up finely. Dice your onion. Mince or press your garlic. Remove thyme from stems and measure out 2 TBS worth.

In a pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft. Add garlic and thyme and cook an additional minute. Add mushrooms and worcestershire. Cook, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes, until much of the moisture from the mushrooms (say that 10 times fast) has come out into the pan. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Combine cornstarch and water and add it to the pot. Cook, stirring, until mixture becomes slightly thick. Add cream and milk and heat through. Salt and pepper each bowl to taste.

REAL food alert: check your worcestershire sauce for additives. The only brand I found with no additives was Lea & Perrins (the kind in the ostentatious paper wrapper). Check your chicken stock for msg and other additives. Check your cream for additives.
ALLERGY alert: worcestershire contains anchovies. You can just leave it out if you have a fish allergy. To make this dairy-free, substitute a plain alternative milk for the milk and cream. Plain almond milk would be a good flavor match. If it isn’t thick enough, you can add more cornstarch/water at the end, just be sure the soup is very hot when you add the cornstarch in or you may get lumps. Also, use all olive oil and leave out the butter.
VEGGIE alert: to make this vegetarian, sub veggie stock for the chicken stock. To make it vegan, see the dairy subs above.
NOTES: The dairy portion of this recipe is flexible. 3 cups of any dairy will work. I used whole milk, but you can use skim with the cream, or half and half. You could use skim for  the entire 3 cups, it just won’t be a very creamy soup. Skim evaporated milk is an option as well, if you are looking to lower fat content, but I’m not a huge fan of the flavor. In my opinion, the way it’s written is how it tastes best, but make it work for your family how you need to and it will still be delicious. 🙂

recipe adapted from season with spice

“Chocolate Covered Cherry” Sorbet

DISCLAIMER: The following blog entry involves discussion of non-REAL food. 😉

When I was a little girl, growing up in Iowa, I would sometimes be lucky enough to spend a few days at a friend’s house who lived “in the country”. We’d stay up late playing barbies in her basement, and the next day, grab some bikes and ride down to the DQ for drippy ice cream cones that melted faster than we could lick in the hot, humid, midwestern air.

Every once in a while, on family night, my family would drive down to the local DQ and get “belly-buttons” as a treat. Dilly bars no longer have the curlicue in the middle that made them look like an “outie” belly-button. Now they’re just a circle on a stick. Sad, really.

Now, I live in a semi-rural suburb, where one of the only “fast-food” places nearby is a DQ. Many traditions now revolve around the DQ: first day of school, last day of school, birthdays, etc. typically involve a trip to the DQ for drippy ice cream cones that melt faster than we can lick in the hot, dry, southwestern air. I still love a “crunch” covered cone, and occasionally a butterscotch dipped. But, when it comes to blizzards, my favorite is the “chocolate covered cherry” blizzard. Vanilla soft-serve mixed with cherries and chocolate coating. It’s just darn tasty!

A week ago, we had an exciting delivery: AN ICE CREAM MAKER. We actually have one already, it’s one of those huge old fashioned types that require ice and rock salt. I have to admit, the old clunkers do a much better job making tasty rich ice cream. But, I wanted one of the new-fangled speedy ones that make a batch in 20 minutes (of course, that’s not accounting for the time to freeze the bowl, make the mix and chill the mix…it’s still a half-day affair, but still beats having to watch and add rock salt every little while).

This recipe I devised after seeing fresh cherries on sale and reminiscing about DQ. It’s a sorbet made from fresh cherries, with chocolate flakes throughout. It’s very tasty and a perfect summer treat.

CHOCOLATE COVERED CHERRY SORBET

2 pounds fresh cherries
2/3 cups sugar (you may want less if your cherries are really sweet)
1 cup water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp real almond extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 TBS coconut oil (you can use butter if you don’t have coconut oil)

Rinse and remove stems and pits from cherries. Place in a pot with the sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor and puree. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, use a rubber scraper to push as much juice out as possible. At this point, you can add some of the pulp back in, depending if you want a smooth sorbet, or small bits of cherry pulp in it. I scooped two spoonfuls of pulp back into the juice and discarded the rest. You can skip the straining altogether (just watch out for hiding pits), or just use the juice for your sorbet. Add the almond extract to the juice. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before putting into your ice cream maker.

When the mixture is chilled, turn on your ice cream maker and pour in the cherry mixture. Make according to the directions for your ice cream maker. I have found that sorbet takes a little longer than ice cream. While the ice cream is churning, melt the chocolate chips and coconut oil in a small bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and stir until smooth. When the sorbet is nice and thick and about done, use a spoon and drizzle the chocolate into the churning ice cream. Every once in a while, it may build up, and you may have to use the rubber scraper to stir it in. It just depends on the design of your ice cream maker. The idea is to pour in a thin stream, which will harden and break into flakes in your sorbet. You can accomplish this however it works best with your ice cream maker. You may or may not use all of the chocolate. Add as much as you would like. When finished, remove into a freezer-safe bowl, cover it and freeze until hard. Overnight is best, if you want it really hard. My kids didn’t mind the soft texture of ours one bit. 😉 (Ours chilled about 4 hours).

REAL food alert: check for artificial flavors in your chocolate chips.
ALLERGY alert: the only thing with dairy here is the chocolate. You can just make the cherry sorbet without the chocolate flakes, or use dairy-free chocolate.
VEGGIE alert: to make this vegan: see above.

Curry and Forbidden Rice

I declare this to be the summer of adventure!!!!

I have decided to buy a new type of produce and/or a new grain every time I go to the store. Our local grocery store had “tamarillos” which I had never seen before. They are a beautiful deep red, and look like a large oblong red plum. I was intrigued.

I came home, did some googling, surveyed my facebook friends and discovered that it (supposedly) tastes like a cross between a tomato and a passion fruit. There is a yellow variety, which is sweeter, and in either variety, you do not eat the tart peel, you scoop out the inside and eat it raw or cook it into a jelly (one facebook friend had only had it cooked, but didn’t tell me how she cooked it).  You learned in this post that I hate raw tomatoes, so I was wary, but curious. Here is a shot of the inside. Sorry that I didn’t get a shot of the outside, I hadn’t planned on blogging my tamarillo adventure:

It looks promising, eh? Well, it tasted nasty. Like poop-nasty. (Excuse my vulgarity). It was reeeeaaaaally sour, and had a sulfuric undertone. Two of my sons, who love sour things thought they were pretty good.

In keeping with my adventurous goal, I got some black “forbidden” rice last time I went to the store. I was trying to figure out what to make it, and I thought it was about time I actually wrote down a curry recipe. When I get the hankering for curry, I just kinda wing it. It’s always roux-based, but everything else varies, sometimes I add coconut milk, sometimes I don’t. This time it turned out to be some of the best curry I’ve ever made, so I’m glad I wrote it down!

The rice was great. It has the texture of brown rice, though a little chewier, and was a little earthier tasting than brown, but not noticeably different. One of my kids loved the ‘beetle rice’, once thought it was pretty good, and my squeamish one refused to eat it once brother said it looked like beetles.

We also decided as a family we we prefer straight-up potato curry. We were all digging for the potatoes and ignoring the chicken (which is why the picture is mostly chicken…I took it the next day of the leftovers). You can add whatever you’d like. Sweet potatoes would be tasty, or carrots, firm tofu if you’re a tofu type person. The amount of curry to add depends on your tastes, and the quality of your curry powder. 1 1/2 TBS was perfect for us, not too overwhelming for the kids, not too underwhelming for us. If you’re new to curry or not sure, start with 1 TBS, you can add more at the end if you need to.

CHICKEN AND POTATO CURRY

3-5 red potatoes
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
4 TBS butter
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 TBS flour
1-2 TBS curry powder
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups (one can) coconut milk
1 tsp salt

In a large pot, boil water. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender (when a fork inserted will slide in easily), but not falling apart. Remove and drain. Set aside. Cook your chicken if needed (I usually use leftover chicken for this, but you can cook your cubed chicken breast in a pan with a little water, covered, just until it is no longer pink in the middle and the juices run clear when you puncture it).

In a large sauce pan, melt butter. Add onions and cook until soft. Add minced garlic and cook for one minute. Whisk in flour and curry powder. Cook while whisking for one minute. Add the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add coconut milk slowly, whisking continually. Add salt and whisk continually until sauce thickens. Add chicken and potatoes and cook and stir until chicken and potatoes are warm. Serve with rice.

ALLERGEN alert: to make this dairy-free, use oil in place of the butter. To make this gluten-free, instead of making a roux, omit the flour, and after adding the stock and coconut milk, bring it to a simmer. Dissolve 1 TBS cornstarch in 1 TBS cold water and add to the sauce. Stir until thick.

SPECIAL DIETS alert: You can make this vegetarian or vegan by omitting the chicken and adding whatever veg you want.

 

BLACK “FORBIDDEN” RICE

2 cups water
1 cup black forbidden rice

Bring water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Cover and lower heat to simmer. Simmer for 60-70 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed and rice is tender.

Chile and Corn Quinoa

Okay, okay…this is very similar to my other corn quinoa recipe. But, I’m on a quinoa kick. If you’re curious why quinoa has become popular lately, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. First, it has twice the protein of white rice. It also is a complete protein. That means it has all 9 amino acids the body needs. Typically, you find complete proteins in animal products (meat and dairy), or you need to eat a combo of foods to get all of the amino acids. Quinoa is a unique plant product that is a complete protein. That makes it popular amongst those who are moving to a more plant based diet (which is becoming a string movement, partially in thanks to a movie called Forks Over Knives, which I strongly suggest, especially if cancer runs in your family).

While eating my other quinoa recipe, I said, “This would be really good with roasted chiles”. My husband agreed, and this dish was born. If you subscribe to my posts, you’ll notice that oven roasting veggies is a habit of mine. Pretty much anything tastes better roasted, and it’s any easy way to prep parts of a dish while making other preparations.

In this dish, I kept with the southwestern flavor theme by adding a little cumin and browned sweet onions. I also added chicken as an option, for those not yet on board with meatless main dishes. Enjoy!

CHILE AND CORN QUINOA

2 ears of corn, still in the husk
1 poblano chile
2 TBS olive oil
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cups chicken stock
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
1 pound chicken breast, cooked and diced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn (still in the husk) and chile on a baking sheet in the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes. Turn chile once during roasting. Chile should be bubbled and black in most areas when done. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

While they are roasting, heat olive oil in a frying pan. Add onion and cook until soft and brown. Remove from heat. In a pot, heat chicken stock over medium high heat. Add garlic and heat to boiling. Stir in quinoa and cumin. Cover and lower heat to low. Simmer for 15-25 minutes, or until quinoa is cooked and all of the liquid is absorbed.

Wearing gloves, remove the blackened skin from the chile, remove and discard the seeds and slice the chile into thin strips. Remove the husks from the corn and cut the kernels from the cob. When quinoa is cooked, stir in the onion, the chile and the corn kernels. Add chicken if desired. Salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve warm.

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From-scratch EASY Ice Cream Sandwiches

I’m back. Did you miss me? That was an unscheduled absence.

It is officially summer here!! Woo Hoo!! My hubby is a teacher so summers are a big fat deal around here. I love having him home and playing and lazing around all summer. In honor of summer, here is one of my favorite easy treats. The greatest thing about this is that it’s totally flexible. You can create whatever ice cream flavors you want..without an ice cream maker!!! I’ve included some ideas to get you started. You could even let your kids make their own, by mixing in their favorites! I also love that the ingredients are pure and simple: cream, milk, sugar. No additives and artificials you get from conventional ice creams. For those of us in the U.S., the tea biscuits can be found in the specialty or imported food section of your grocery store. I use a combo of plain and chocolate, for variety. Some have additives, others don’t.

ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

Basic Recipe:
1-2 packages rectangular tea biscuits
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

Line a 9×13 pan with plastic wrap. Line up your biscuits to cover the bottom of the pan, top down. Whip together the cream and condensed milk until stiff. (See this post about whipping cream if you need help). Fold in any add-ins (see below). Place biscuits on top to line up with the bottom biscuits. If you are using a typical 9×13 pan, notice that the sides are bigger on top than the bottom. I line up the first row of biscuits, so they are directly above the bottom ones. This means you will have some excess around the sides on the top. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 8 hours (I typically do it over night). When you remove the pan from the freezer, pull the entire block of sandwiches out of the pan using the plastic wrap. (Yippee! The pan is still clean! Put it back in your cupboard. I love avoiding dirty dishes). Cut the excess from around the top edge. Now you should be able to pick up the block and break apart the sandwiches. Serve on a hot summer day!

Add-ins:

2/3 cups of:

mini chocolate chips (that’s what I typically use)

chopped dried cherries (with or without the chocolate chips)

mini chocolate chips + 1/2 tsp mint extract

broken pretzels

crumbled cookies

crushed strawberries (fresh or frozen)

crushed raspberries + coconut+ white chocolate chips

REAL food alert: check the biscuits for additives, check your chocolate chips for artificial flavoring, check the cream for additives.

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Adapted from To Food With Love

Roasted Corn, Broccoli and Black Bean Quinoa

In lieu of a written entry for this recipe, I will refer you to this awesome blog post.

Also…I use my food processor A LOT in recipes. Every time I write a recipe that uses my food processor, I think about what I would do without it. I LOVE my food processor. They can be pretty expensive, so when I ran across a cuisinart sale here, I thought I’d post it. If you’re new to the site and join, you get a free $15 credit, which is cool. There are stick blenders, ice cream makers, coffee grinders and all sorts of awesome small kitchen appliances on sale. Check it out. (The cuisinart sale ends in a couple of days, but comes back every few months or so).

ROASTED CORN, BROCCOLI AND BLACK BEAN QUINOA

serves 6-8 as a side dish, or 4-6 as a main dish

2 ears fresh corn, still in the husk
2 large heads of broccoli, with the main stalk removed
2 TBS olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp fresh thyme, removed from stems
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn (still in husk) and broccoli crowns on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the broccoli a couple of times. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove husk and cut corn kernels from the cob with a sharp serrated knife. Break the broccoli into very small crowns, removing excess stalks. I like the broccoli to be as small as possible, without completely chopping it up.

While the veggies are roasting, heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and cook until lightly browned. Add garlic and cook, while stirring, an additional minute. Add quinoa, broth and thyme. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes (or until all the liquid is absorbed). Stir in corn, broccoli and black beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. This makes a great side dish, or main dish.

Adapted from The Dish on Delish

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