This idea comes from a dear friend of mine that has a PhD in Physiology, is an amazing baker, a devoted Mom and phenomenal chef on top of it all. Anytime she gives me an idea, I know it will be great. I hope you all think so too.
Around here we have a cream cheese problem. It's so flavorful and creamy, and (sadly) so full of fat. In a scant 1 oz serving (which is about enough for half a bagel if you live at my house) is packed 9 whopping grams of fat. Six of those grams are saturated fat, a.k.a. the bad fats. Alas our love of cream cheese is not a healthy affair, but it's still so darn good.
Enter another of our great loves, Greek yogurt. If you like it too, then read on. And even if you aren't the biggest fan, try this out and see if you will be a convert.
Here's a quick way to make a spread that tastes just like cream cheese, but with a lot less fat. Just use Greek yogurt, which is simply regular yogurt that has been strained. And to make it even more decadent, just strain it a little more overnight in cheese cloth. Surprisingly you'll get another tablespoon or two of liquid out of it. The end result will be a thick creamy spread that is just like cream cheese. And it's also very versatile. You can do savory blends or sweet, go gourmet or keep it basic.
To strain it all you need is some cheese cloth, a half cup of Greek yogurt, a small strainer or colander, and a medium bowl to set it in that will collect the liquid.t. Add your yogurt to the cheese cloth and tie it off to seal it. Place this wrap into your strainer or colander and stick in the refrigerator overnight.
Here are some ideas to flavor your yogurt spread:Savory bell pepper and chivesAdd two tablespoons chopped roasted red bell pepper, a tablespoon chives
, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a teeny bit of finely minced garlic. Mix together and let sit for a few minute so the flavors can meld. Use on sandwiches, on a bagel or as a dip with whole wheat crackers.Honey walnutAdd 1 tablespoon honey and two teaspoons finely chopped walnuts to make a sweeter spread for
bagels or toast.Sweet preserves blendAdd two tablespoons fine quality preserves or fruit butter to spread and mix. Serve with toasted baguette slices or with regular toast.
Mixed herb spreadMix in 2-3 tablespoons of whatever fresh herbs you have on hand and a 1/4 teaspoon salt. The final amount depends on how strong your herbs are. Use a combo as opposed to one type for variety. Serve as a dip with whole wheat crackers.Lox schmear
Mix in two tablespoons of finely chopped smoked salmon, 1 tablespoon chopped tomato and 1/2 teaspoon finely minced shallot. Serve with whole wheat crackers or on a bagel.Related reading: Pumpkin pie dip
Here's a little mix that you can throw together in an empty spice jar and throw into your kids yogurt, cottage cheese, PB and J's, toast, cereal, oatmeal, fruit salad... the list goes on. And it's just a matter of mixing it up, storing it in the fridge, and just experimenting a little.
What makes this mix so special is it is one of the most nutritious things that you can sneak into your kids tummies. In fact this mix is so full of goodness that you can probably skip your kiddos multivitamin if you can sneak some of this in their snacks. Here are the components and their respective nutritional components so you can judge for yourself:
Wheat germ is the heart of the wheat berry and has a ton of nutrition is scant amount of product. It has fiber, folic acid, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc vitamin E and thiamin. It also has a mild flavor and is easy to hide in foods.
Chia seeds are native to South America. They pack more omega 3 fatty acids than any other plant source. For kids that are lactose intolerant or just adverse to dairy, chia seeds have 6 times more calcium than milk. They also are packed full of protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, phosphorous and manganese. They also contain a variety of amino acids, which your body uses to make proteins. Like wheat germ chia seeds are also mild in flavor.
Flax seeds have a nutty flavor, particularly if you buy roasted flax. They have tons of omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, lignins, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, thiamin (among other B vitamins) manganese, calcium, iron and zinc.
So this one is purely for taste so that you can trick your kids taste buds. After all, who doesn't love cinnamon?
So go ahead and try this mix out so you can start your kids off on the right foot, without them even knowing it. For one spice jar, here's what you'll need:
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Mix together and store in the fridge to keep the seeds lasting longer. For long term storage, store in the freezer.
As promised, here's how to can your own fruits. This was how I preserved my apple butter
, but it will work for any fruit product. If you are planning on canning vegetables, your equipment list will be different because you'll need a pressure canner as opposed to a boiling. This difference is due to the fact that fruits have lots of acid, which inhibits the growth of bacteria.Here's a basic list of what you'll need, though you can actually buy kits at varying prices that have everything included. I opted to go the cheap route and only bought a few things, then I used stuff that I already had. What I bought is bolded, the rest is what you'll either need to be innovative with or buy yourself
Wide mouth funnel
Non-metal spoon to remove bubbles
Canning kettle or stock pot
I actually already had a huge stock pot from my beer brewing, pre-kid days and I put a small cooling rack in it in lieu of a canning rack. So all told I spent about $20 for my canning equipment.Steps
1. Using your funnels, fill sterile jars with your fruit. You can sterilize your jars and lids by boiling them in water for a few minutes or in your dishwasher on a sterilize cycle. I opted for the latter and had the dishwasher set on heated drying so that the jars were warm when I added the apple butter. If your jars are already warm it will reduce the chances of cracking when boiling.
2. Make sure to leave head space in your jars so that you have room for expansion during heating. You can leave enough head space by just filling your jars to right below the rim
3. Using a non-metal spoon, remove any air bubbles by inserting the spoon in the center and dragging it to the edge of the jars. I actually inverted my spoon and used the handle to do this since it was a little less unwieldy.
4. Thoroughly wipe the rims of your jars. This step is crucial; otherwise moisture that's not sealed inside the can might form mold growth. Yuck!
5. Hand tighten your lids on the jars
6. Using a canning rack or with the jar holders, place jars in a kettle with simmering water. Make sure that there is at least an inch of water over the tops of your jars.
7. Boil your cans in a canning rack or on top of a cooling rack in a large kettle for at least 5 minutes. Additional boiling time depends on your elevation. This elevation guide can be found on the back of the box the jars come in if you purchase Ball bars.
8. Cool jars on a cooling rack on your counter for ~12 hours, then store in a cool dry place for up to a year.
If you can hold onto them long enough enjoy your canned fruits throughout the year or give as gifts to your friends. It's a bit more work then buying a jar from the grocery store, but it's really rewarding and actually pretty easy. If I can do it with a 4 year old and a toddler, then you can do it too and impress all your friends. Enjoy!Related reading: Slow cooker honey apple butter
Slow cookers have re-entered the cooking scene with a vengeance. The convenience of having dinner (and now breakfast, lunch...and snacks) made by the time you get home with very little work on your end has been rediscovered. All the blogs are posting slow cooker recipes and meal plans, so I thought that I would throw one in myself. Now obviously slow cooker does not equate with fast snack, but this is a recipe that you can make overnight and there isn't much active time.
In addition to featuring a slow cooker snack, I'm also starting a new tag (essentially category) called "Back to Basics". These are recipes and tips that bring us back to simpler times (and ultimately ingredients), where a family made a lot of their own foods. I promise you won't be churning your own butter and milking the cows, but I'm going to give you all tips on canning, making a basic cheese, and using up apples while they are in season. Because eating seasonally is a great way to diversify your diet (and get out of a food rut) and maximize nutrient content. The fresher your produce, regardless of if it's a fruit or vegetable, the higher the nutrients.
In line with that theme, we went apple picking this past weekend in a small farming town called Wilcox. As so happens when you are surrounded in produce, we might have overpicked just a teensy bit. At $1.09/lb for organic apples, how could we stop? Twenty two pounds later we left and I have a new mission to figure out how to utilize all that fruit while it's at its peak freshness and nutrient content.
Apple butter is a great way to use up extra apples, since one 1/2 pint jar of apple butter is roughly the equivalent of one pound of apples. I recommend cooking them in the slow cooker overnight since it's a 9-11 hour process, but you can also start them first thing in the morning. Either way our house will smell terrific.
This recipe makes 3 pints of apple butter.You can divide it into 6 x 1/2 pint containers and either freeze them for your later use or can them for gifts. I'll let you know how I did the latter next time. We've been eating apple butter with plain yogurt and toast all week. Let me know what you use apple butter with so we can try it out. Enjoy!
Slow cooker honey apple butter
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 11-12 hours
Makes: 3 pints
6 pounds apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2-1 cup honey, depending on how sweet your apples are
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and toss to mix. Cook on high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook for 9 hours, or until mixture is dark brown and apples are soft. Whisk until mixture is creamy. Cook uncovered for another hour to evaporate excess liquid. Aliquot into containers and save. Let cool completely and refrigerate prior to eating.
Step 1: Add ingredients to slow cooker
Step 2: Cook on high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook overnight.
Step 3: After ~9 hours, mixture should be dark and thick. Whisk and cook uncovered for one hour.
Step 4: Pour into jars and freeze or can.
The other day when I was at Trader Joe's I saw hazelnuts, and it totally made my day. I've been on the lookout for them since this summer. I know, hazelnuts aren't usually on your must have list, but I've been fostering a secret addiction to Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread) ever since my Sister got me hooked on the stuff this past July. I've had to keep my new love under raps because I don't want my kids to know about it. I'm pretty sure that if they had a bite of the stuff they'd go crazy for it too, and then I'd have competition in polishing it off. And trust me, going head to head with a four year old is like battling a rabid raccoon.
I'm all about nut spreads, but aside from the whole competition factor I have other reasons for keeping my kids off of this scrumptious hazelnut chocolate spread. First and foremost, Nutella is full of sugar. In fact the first ingredient in Nutella is sugar, which is pretty surprising it takes a lot of hazelnuts to make a but butter. And when you have kids that are as sugar-deprived as mine, when something that's super sweet comes into the equation they develop an automatic obsession. The second ingredient is palm oil and again, I'm still surprised that it's not hazelnuts, which have a lot of oil in their own right.
Hazelnuts (or filberts) are a pretty nutritious nut in their own right, and really taste delicious with chocolate. Similar to almonds they have tons of vitamin E, along with copper and manganese, iron and calcium and they are are a great source of protein.
So I decided to make my own, unapologetically lower sugar, no added oil Nutella. Just to warn you, make sure that you process your hazelnuts for about 5 minutes before adding your other ingredients, otherwise you'll end up with a gritty mess (I learned this one the hard way). Second add your water at the very end to make the spread smoother, so it's not a stiff mass of fudge (again, another mistake I made).
So here's an easy, fool-proof way to harvest all the powerful nutrients of hazelnuts without all the sugar. Enjoy!
Homemade chocolate hazelnut spread
Cook time: 10 minutes
Processing time: ~10 minutes
Makes: 4 ounce jar
1 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons water
Preheat oven to 350F. Then roast hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and put in a towel. Rub the hazelnuts around in the towel to remove most of their outer skin.
Put hazelnuts into a food processor while they are still hot. Process for ~5 minutes, until they release their oils and become a butter. Then add your cocoa, honey and vanilla. Process until combined, another few minutes. Finally drizzle in your water while the processor is still running, the total amount dependent on how smooth you want the spread. Remove and put in a jar. Refrigerate til cool before serving.
Step 1: roast hazelnuts
Step 2: process nuts until smooth, then add the rest of your ingredients
Step 3: enjoy!
Well despite a rough labor day weekend whereupon the greens withstood 100+ temperatures without water while we vacationed among riparian paradise in Northeastern Arizona, they did indeed survive and make it to harvest. Without the aforementioned factors I think that they would have been ready to harvest earlier and in great quantity, but it still only took 15 days from start to finish.Just to recap, microgreens are a wide variety of lettuce, herb and vegetable plants that are harvested when they are only 1-2 inches in length. They have lots of great flavor and
are especially appealing to kids once they find out that they are eating baby broccoli, radish and beet plants in just one bite. They also add diversity to a diet since you can have so many different varieties. They are exceptionally versatile and easy to incorporate in just about anything, from toppings to soups and salads to snacks in their own right.So with all that in mind we planted our own microgreen garden. They only take a couple of weeks to harvest and it's cheaper than buying them, since they are pretty costly and not available in bulk. Harvesting them couldn't have been easier. You know that they are ready when they sprout their second set of leaves. Their first two leaves are their seed leaves, which look generally the same among most plants and the plant uses these leaves to grow out of. The second set are their true leaves, which look like all the subsequent leaves
that are representative of that plant. Once those true leaves show up, your ready to harvest.With a pair of scissors, cut
the plants at their base. You don't eat the roots, so don't bother pulling them. Since you're cutting the plants so close to the base they won't be able to grow again, so this is a one time only planting. Have one of your kiddos hold your collection bowl for you so they can be a part of the process.Just to add to this latter tip, my daughter munched up our greens like they were going out of style, and she's not into eating anything that's even remotely green
. I think it's because she was so involved with the whole thing, from getting the soil ready to planting and then harvesting. And since they duration was so short she was still excited about the garden and willing to check on them almost daily. Hopefully you'll have as much fun with this project as we did, and maybe your kids will even eat a little more greens too.Related reading: Featured food: microgreens
Planting a microgreen garden
I only have time for a quick snack today- check out my monstrous laundry pile. Yikes.
Add in a fussy toddler and a four year old with a cough, and that doesn't leave much time for being in the kitchen.
So I decided to make a quick snack that was suggested by a graduate student I've been training in the lab. I've always paired cottage cheese with sweet foods, like preserves and fruit butters. But she suggested a tangy take on cottage cheese, specifically mustard. I was dubious at first, but I love the combo, and even better my kids really like it too.
Cottage cheese is a really great source of calcium and protein, all while being low in fat and calories. To be perfectly honest I don't buy the low-fat or fat free varieties because they just don't taste as good and are supplemented with lots of sugar and salt to make up for the lack of flavor. Full fat cottage cheese has only 5 grams of fat in a 1/2 cup serving, which is a pretty generous amount if you think about it. Typically 1/4 of cottage cheese is enough for small kids.
To make this snack even more appealing to my kids we whipped together cucumber cups to hold our cottage cheese. Cucumbers are low in calories, high in potassium, vitamin K and also have anti-oxidants. They also have tons of water, which makes them really refreshing.
To make these cups I cut off the ends of a large cucumber. Then I trimmed off ~1/4 inch off the bottom so that there was a flat surface to set the cucumbers on. Then I hollowed out the center with a melonballer. With the remaining center of the cucumber I sliced it into straws for dipping. That was the most labor intensive part of this recipe, and it really took very little time. You can just use a bowl if you like, but the kids like the cups more and you can eat them when you're done. And for someone like me, the mama disposal, that makes this snack pretty tasty for me too.
Cucumber cottage cheese cups
Prep time: 3 minutes
1 large cucumber
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon mustard
Cut off the ends of the cucumbers so that they are roughly 3-4 inches high. Hollow out into cups as described above. Cut the remaining center into straws for dipping.
In a bowl combine cottage cheese and mustard. With a small spoon fill the cucumber cups with the mix, then serve.
In continuation with my cheddar cheese post yesterday, here are more some interesting food additive tidbits concerning how some of the common ones are made. Now just as a disclaimer, I'm not going to feed into the controversies that surround some of these ingredients. Unfortunately the jury is still out on the effects of consuming some of these ingredients. That's not to say that they are all completely safe, but just that there isn't enough research to conclusively determine the effects of long term consumption.Food additives are added to foods to increase shelf-life of products and can also serve as cheaper fillers or ingredients. Case in point, high fructose corn syrup is cheaper than traditional can sugar
, hence the reason it is now in so many products. The bottom line is that additives increase companies profits. These increases revenue has made additives very popular, though they don't always benefit consumers that are prone to allergies or asthma. So without further adieu, here are some interesting "How you make them" food additive facts.Caramel coloring
Caramel coloring is a food dye that is used in lots of soft drinks. Some forms of caramel coloring are manufactured by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperature. High fructose corn syrup
Typically when you break corn down, you get glucose. But glucose doesn't taste nearly as sweet as fructose, so chemists developed a method of rearranging the atoms in glucose so that it becomes fructose. Thus with this process corn could be broken down and altered to make fructose. This modified formula is then combined with regular corn syrup so that it becomes a 45% glucose 55% fructose solution. This sweeter solution is cheaper than regular sugar, hence the reason it's in so many products now. Gelatin
Gelatin, which is used to thicken foods (just think of jello) is made from boiling skin, muscle and hooves. This process releases collagen, which is an elastic connective tissue and results in a thickening, stabilizing ingredient.Carmine
Carmine is a red food dye that is made from boiling crushed cochineal insects' exoskeletons in water, then treating the resulting solution with the chemical compound alum.Sulphur dioxideSulphur dioxide is a preservative that also keeps dried fruits, like apricots and golden raisins, from darkening.
It is made by burning of common sulfur-rich materials including wool, hair, rubber, and foam rubber. Xanthum gum
Xanthum gum, which is a sticky goo that thickens and stabilizes food like ice cream, is made by fermenting corn sugar with bacteria. It is popular among people that can't digest gluten since it is a gluten free product.If you are concerned about processed food in your kiddos diets', the Center for Science in the Public Interest has a great list of which additives are safe, questionable of best avoided.
As a rule of thumb, the less ingredients a product has, the less additives it will contain and it's also more likely to be less allergenic.Related reading: Soda and cancer risk High fructose corn syrup and why you should avoid it Why is my cheese yellow?
Have you ever wondered why cheddar cheese is yellow? After all it's not like milk is yellow. And if you ever look at the ingredients list you'll notice that cheddar has something called annato, which seems pretty exotic compared to the other ingredients. So here's the history behind why cheddar cheese is dyed.Back in the day, when milk was made by cows traversing the pastures, the actual color of milk varied.
During the Spring, when resources were aplenty, the milk was a creamier color due to the higher nutrient and caloric content that went into making it. Thus a cream color cheese resulted, as opposed to the pasty white varieties of Winter. Eventually the villagers came to reason that increased coloration meant better cheese. So in the true nature of capitalism cheese makers learned that color meant higher demand, and started dying their cheeses.Then, in the go big or go home mindset, cheese makers began to dye cheese
s bright orange. It was exciting to get such a vibrant food, and eventually bright orange became the norm for yellow cheeses, like cheddar. As for the dye of choice among cheese makers, typically annato is the prime choice.
Derived from the outer coat of the achiote seed, which is indigenous to Latin America, it is orange in color and used to dye various products. Since it is derived from a natural product it is considered a natural dye. However it has been tied to food allergies in some people.So you might be wondering why cheddar cheese is dyed, despite the lack of taste difference and the fact that it might be allergenic to some people. Want to learn more about common food additives? Unfortunately I think that's enough for tonight, but tomorrow I'll post a list of some common additives and some of the information behind their use.
Stay tuned...Related reading: Reading ingredients lists Natural versus processed foods How about some bugs with that yogurt?
We love french toast! But sometimes the syrup can be a gooey, sticky mess, especially if you've got a toddler involved. So here's a recipe for french toast that doesn't have that problem. And it's also in individual servings so it's a great snack too.French toast, when done right, has so much potential for a healthy food. Eggs and milk bring in protein and calcium, and if you use whole wheat bread then a you have a really well-balanced snack. I also threw in blueberries so that this is about as choose my plate friendly as you can get.If you are feeling trepidation about not having syrup then have no fear- there is still
syrup in this recipe. However you add it to your french toast prior to baking it in the oven, so it's incorporated into your toast as opposed to bathing it. Afterall, what would french toast be without a little syrup to flavor it?I know that maple syrup is expensive. But if you try it, you'll see that it's a hundred times better than the high fructose syrups you get at the grocery store. Sorry Aunt Jemima, but all those processed ingredients just can't compare to the real stuff. Once you buy, you'll find that it has lot's of other uses, like for yogurt, oatmeal
, cookies, etc. So in the words of Yo Gabba Gabba (and our nightly eat your vegetables at dinner mantra), "Try it, you'll like it!"If your bread isn't very stale you can always cut it up into cubes, then let it sit out on the counter overnight. That will dry it out so that you don't have soggy french toast.
Enjoy!French Toast Mini'sPrep time: 5 minutesCook time: 12-15 minutesMakes: one dozen french toast muffins
Half a loaf of stale whole wheat bread (we used a baguette)4 eggs1 cup milk1 teaspoon cinnamon2 tablespoons maple syrup1/2 cup blueberriesdash saltPreheat oven to 350F.
Lightly grease a muffin tin.Cut bread into 1 inch cubes.
Spread out evenly in a casserole dish.Mix all other ingredients in a small bowl until eggs are broken up. Then pour into casserole dish with bread cubes.
Pour wet mixture over the cubes, then let it saturate for a few minutes. Divide cubes and egg mix into 12 muffin cups, then bake 12-15 minutes or until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for a 5-10 minutes, then serve.