Friday, July 18, 2014

Dreaming of Ice Cream - It's easy NOT being green! Mint Ice Cream

So much to blog, so little time!  I'm sorry I've been delinquent, and will try to catch up with posts I've had planned for a while, as well as yummy new experiments.

Onward!  This is a yummy new experiment

I'm back to full low carb/ketogenic eating (getting there, anyway) and so I've returned to my fully sugar-free ice cream recipe.  I am keeping the milk option, from my more recent recipes, because I love the lighter texture (more like gelato).  See note at the VERY bottom for a comment on the milk/cream situation.

I'm still working my way through my Jeni's ice cream recipe book, taking inspiration and trying to convert these to sugar free.  I can't say enough good things about this book though!

Last year, I planted chocolate mint in my garden (you can see it here with the strawberry (dark 3-leaf), rhubarb (massive leaves), gooseberries (left, top) and red currants (far right) earlier this year).  The mint has pointed oblong leaves that grow in pairs. 

Beware: mint grows like a weed (it sends out runners) and can easily take over the garden. I'm ok with that!
It's doing well, and I thought-- hey! My husband loves mint ice cream, and I haven't made any yet this year.  And gee, look at all that mint... I'll make it with fresh mint, instead of extract!

So I found Jeni's recipe for "Backyard Mint" ice cream and gave it the de-sugarification treatment.

I waited to tell you about it until I could try it after a full 24 hours in the freezer, and I do declare, it is a success!

You can give this a whirl with other herbaceous, um, herbs.  I think Tarragon would be great (I had that once in a restaurant, along with a warm chocolate cake), or maybe Basil?
So think of this as a technique, and you can play with it.

As always-- to make sugar-free ice cream scoopable, you'll need some combination of the following "specialty" ingredients-- you can find all of these online, and most at your local stores (cake decorating supply stores would be your best bet for glycerine and isomalt). 
  • Glycerine - imparts a bit of sweetness, but helps with scoopability
  • Xylitol - this sweetener is gaining popularity. Helps with the freezing temperature. Can cause stomach upset, so I'm trying not to use too much nowadays
  • Vodka - helps with freezing temperature (the faster something freezes, the smaller the ice crystals, and the smoother the texture).
  • Guar/Xanthan gum - don't be scared of the weird names, these are natural fibers that work to thicken liquids (and don't need boiling, like cornstarch does). I mix them in a 1:1 ratio and keep them in a shaker
  • Isomalt syrup: I use this instead of corn syrup, which adds to texture and not freezing too firmly.  You can read more about it in my Pecan Pie Tartlet recipe on FluffyChix's blog.

So, go gather yourself a BIG HUGE bunch of fresh mint (peppermint, not spearmint... unless you like spearmint. Which is fine. You can do that. But it's not my thing... #ew).

2c. whole or 2% milk (I wind up using 2% often and it's totally great)
1/8 tsp fine sea salt (or regular table salt. DON'T use kosher salt or chunky grains of sea salt)
1.5c heavy whipping cream
2T glycerine
2T vodka
2T isomalt syrup
2T xylitol
guar or xanthan gum(s) for thickening
additional liquid sugar free sweetener to taste (I used 12 drops of sweetzfree sucralose liquid). You could also use powdered sweetener, packets, what-have-you
1-2 bunches of fresh peppermint (I harvested about 10-16 sprigs from my garden, and just used the leaves, but you can use the stems too, since it all is strained out). We like things minty.

In a medium heat-proof bowl, mix the glycerine, vodka, and salt.  Prepare a HUGE bowl with ice and some water (you'll cool the medium bowl in the big bowl later).

Wash your mint well, and then rip the leaves into smallish pieces (you're exposing the mint-yummy-cells to the mixture that will be poured over it) and put it in the bowl with the glycerine mix.
In a 4-quart (um... 4 liter) saucepan (because this bubbles up... bigger pot is better), mix the milk, cream, salt, xylitol, isomalt syrup, and heat over medium-high until it hits a rolling boil.

Boil the mixture for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat for a moment, and mix in a few shakes of your guar/xanthan gum thickener (one/both/either whatever you usually use).  You don't want it too thick, or your machine will have trouble freezing it.  No more than 1/8th tsp. I shake mine from a "icing sugar" type of shaker, so it's not even that much.
WHISK VIGOROUSLY while you are adding the shakes of the thickener, or you will get clumps!

Return to the heat and boil for 1 minute (less if you sense it will boil over).

Pour a small bit of mixture at a time, over the ripped mint/glycerine mixture in the bowl.  Stir everything together.

Place the bowl into the big bowl of water/ice (don't let any water get in!), and give that a stir every few minutes until it is cool.
You can then place it in a covered container in the fridge, up until a full day.  It will just get mintier.

I used mine as soon as it was cold because I'm terribly impatient.  Strain through a sieve, pressing to get all the liquid, and don't forget to clean off the outside of the sieve too.

Freeze in your ice cream/yogurt maker according to directions-- should take 25 minutes, give or take a few.

Quickly transfer to your container for the freezer, smooooooth it out, and get that in the freezer QUICKLY.
Let it firm up for a few hours, 2-4 at least.

And VOILA! Best mint ice cream ever!  

A few flecks of mint leaf got through, but you wouldn't call this green by any stretch of the imagination.
You taste the "sweet cream" aspect, and the fresh mintiness, and the herbal quality comes through too.

And no, it's not green. ;)

Nutrition information:
Let's say 8 servings:

Using 2% milk--
225 calories
77% from fat
18g fat
66mg cholesterol
81mg sodium
128mg potassium
9g carb
4g fiber (depending how you count xylitol and glycerine)
3g protein
10% calcium
16% vitamin A
9% B2

If you use whole milk, there's 232 calories, and 78% from fat (getting better for the Keto folks).  You can play with the milk/cream ratio if you like-- just keep in mind that more fat means that your tongue gets coated and you don't taste the flavors as much.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's really easy being green... when you're my Collard Greens!

I've been feeling nostalgic for Southern holiday food the last few years, and have been recreating the recipes I loved when I lived in Georgia.

I didn't appreciate collard greens then, but have grown to love Love LOVE them now!  I had to search for recipes to base my own on, since most use a ham bone, ham hock (!) or fat back (!!), none of which are easily found by me way up here in the Great White North.
So I use bacon. 

Yes, heresy.
I know. Whatevs.
It works and it tastes phenomenal, and it's smoky and salty and meaty and easy, and I don't have a bone to deal with.

Here's my recipe-- remember, do NOT throw out the liquid. That is called "pot liquor" and is prized for taste and nutrients (but not looks) in the South (I drink it like a sort of salty soup, and never share!)

2 bunches of collards (or 1 collard and 1 chard if you want)
1 red bell pepper
2-4 slices of bacon (let's say we make this with 2 slices of thick cut bacon)
1 small onion (of any kind).
1.5c chicken stock, and 1.5 c water
red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste
big pot to cook in


Cut up the bacon into small pieces, and start that frying in the pot. I put in a little water to help it render w/out burning.
Chop the onion nto medium sized pieces  and put that in next, then the red bell pepper. Just get them sweating a bit, get the rawness out.

While that is going on, prepare the greens.
Clean the greens, and cut the stems off. You can cut the really thick stem out of the leaves, but you don't have to go nuts. I've left some of the in-leaf-stem on, and it got plenty soft enough to eat.
I like to cut the leaves in 1/2 length wise, then in 3 or 4 sections along the length (I stack them and cut a bunch at once). Again, a bit of stem doesn't seem to hurt anything.

Plop that in, and pour in the chicken stock and water. You can add more water if you think you need it, but the greens don't need to be covered in water (they will melt down).

Cover. Bring to boil, then reduce to way low simmer.

Simmer... forever.
At least till greens are soft to your liking (let's say an hour), or let them sit there all day while you do other stuff.
Only salt at the end, but you can add
chili flakes if you like, up front. Go easy, the heat builds.

The leaves get darker as it cooks longer... this batch still needs to go for a bit.
I could seriously eat at least 1/2 a batch by myself, at least, but, here are the nutrition stats for you to decide for yourself:

Making 4 servings:
73 calories (see? told you, you could eat the whole thing!)
4g total fat
5mg cholesterol
403 mg sodium (not counting if you add more salt)
236mg potassium
5g carbohydrates
1g fiber
4g "net carbohydrates" if you count those
5g protein

other nutrition info:
108% of daily vitamin C
44% of daily vitamin A
10% of daily Niacin

What a Crock!: No Tomato Turkey Chili

How cute is this?
I found it at
I love my husband. A lot.  So much so, that even though he has a pretty serious food intolerance to tomatoes (and eggplants, and to a certain extent, peppers...), I'm still married to him. :D

I know what you're thinking-- allergic to tomatoes? I know, right? Weird.  But, actually, in my 10+ years of working with and around this situation, I've discovered that it's not entirely unheard of (see? I even found a logo for it!). Other folks in his family have versions of the same thing, to different degrees.
Anyway, while I looooooooove all things tomato (and eggplant, but that's another post...), I've learned to live without them, and more challengingly (is that a word? it is now!), to COOK without them.

Seriously-- take a few minutes, and peruse your recipes.  Everything is "add a can of tomatoes" to this, and "add 2T of tomato paste" to that... I didn't realize how vital it was to the way I cooked until I couldn't do it anymore.
We've found some workarounds, one of which is for him to take an antacid/acid-reducer pill prior to a meal where we think he won't be able to avoid tomatoes (for example, when we travel to Mexico.  He sticks to grilled meats, but even he sometimes wants a little variety!).
That little trick will NOT work with a big bowl of meaty tomato sauce or chili though. And sometimes, a guy just wants some chili without taking his well being and happiness for the next several hours into his hands.
So, here is my take on a tomato-free chili. 
I made it with extra lean ground turkey because I wanted something lighter in calories, but you can use whatever ground meat (meats?) you'd like... it will work great with beef, mix of beef and pork, chicken, some sausage... go for it.

I also didn't load it with veggies, but if you want to sneak some in there, I'd suggest chopping some green and red bell peppers, and maybe adding some zucchini too.  Calorie counts obviously will change with all of the above.
Finally-- since I do try to (sometimes) keep carbohydrate counts low(ish), I've used black soy beans.  I know there is a LOT of literature around soy.  I have to say, I don't eat a lot of soy. Some soy sauce now and then, maybe an edamame when I'm out at a Japanese restaurant. 
But I have to say, the black soy beans are WAY lower in carbohydrates (I'm looking at "net carbs" which is the carbohydrate grams minus the fiber grams) than comparable regular black beans (here, check for yourself: 
Eden Foods Black Beans Nutrition Info  vs Eden Foods Black Soy Beans Nutrition Info).
So, with all that said, here is the recipe!  Enjoy some yummy, comforting, tomato-free goodness :)
Make 6 hearty servings

1 kilogram extra lean ground turkey (that's 2 packages from the store I buy from) (that's about 2.2lbs)
1 large spanish onion, peeled and chopped
3 1/2 cups black soy beans (that's 2 cans)
6 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt

pepper to taste (black and red flakes if you like it spicy!)
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons olive oil

Set up a large crockpot first.
Brown the ground turkey and 1/2 the chili powder in a skillet, using the oil.  You can do this in 2 batches, depending on the size of your pan.  Drain extra liquid into the crockpot-- don't want to lose any flavor!
Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion into small pieces.
Dump the ground turkey/chili powder into the crock pot. Use the same skillet to cook the onion briefly.  Try to scrape up any brown turkey goodness using the liquid coming out of the onions.
Once they are wilted a bit, dump that into the crockpot with the turkey.
Add in the rest of the spices, as well as the 2 cans of black soy beans (including their liquid-- the liquid in mine is just water and a bit of seaweed), and give it all a stir.

Cook on low for 6hrs, or high for 3hrs.  Serve however you like (but anything you add will have more calories, of course!)

This is 3 of the 6 servings. We've eaten the other ones before I could post about it!

Not a gorgeous picture, but I wanted you to see the size of the container. I think these hold 2c, and they are pretty much full.

Nutrition Info:
per serving (1/6th of the batch)
400 calories
19g fat
100mg cholesterol
949 mg sodium
606 mg potassium
18g carbohydrate
12g fiber
46g protein

other info:
41% of your iron
16% of your calcium
20% of your zinc
66% of your vitamin A
11% of your folacin

Thursday, November 28, 2013

From The Oven: The Great Sweet Potato Calamity (and my Sweet Potato Soufflé (Super Southern Style))

I feel delinquent... I meant to get this posted around Canadian Thanksgiving for my friend K, who asked for it after I posted about it on Facebook, and then it just got away from me.
Well, now it's American Thanksgiving, and I've got my writing-groove going, so here we go.

First, a little background about why this Canadian girl loves a Southern dish like Sweet Potato Soufflé, and the great Calamity story.
I lived in Atlanta for four very formative years (grades 7-10) and while some of that time was not ideal (namely, 7th grade, most of which I have literally blocked out and do not remember at all), some of it was supremely excellent.  I have some wonderful friends to this day from high school, and I also experienced some idyllic teenage American life.  Friday night football games, sleep overs, hanging around at the mall, charity car washes.  It was awesome.

I also had a step-grandmother, Louise, who was (since I have 0 contact with anyone from my ex-step-father's family... but if you're out there, I'd love to hear from you!) a wonderful Southern cook.  She doted on me, and I loved it.
She would *literally* bake a cake because she knew I was coming over!

One Thanksgiving (could've been a Christmas, but this feels like a Thanksgiving story), she had the sweet potato soufflé, covered in marshmallows of course, baking in the oven.
My step-father, who was a bit accident prone, was the one to take it out.

I don't know what happened next exactly, but all I saw was a slo-mo of the casserole dish falling to the floor.... the orange and white contents flowing UP in a GIANT wave.... and then splashing down against the floor next to the wood paneled wall, causing a ricochet effect and further traveling of the wave... ooooohhhhhh....

It was GLORIOUS in its disastrousness. It was historic. The Calamity lives on in the annual telling of the story (between me and my mother), who witnessed it as well.
There is laughter until there are tears, usually. 

The only orange wave I could find. Ah...the days before cell phone cams! It was just like this, but with more wood paneling and less sunny beach

Ok, so, with that in mind (!) let me tell you how I now make my sweet potatoes for holidays.  This is sort of a ratio thing, and I don't think you can get it wrong.  Just don't over-bake the marshmallows, or they disappear, and I become sad.

4-6 sweet potatoes (nothing fancy, not purple or anything, just the regular ones)
2-3 eggs
1 stick of butter, softened (or margarine, or leave it out if you don't like delicious things)
1/2c heavy cream (depends on how many potatoes you are using, what texture you like, etc), or 1/2 and 1/2, or evaporated milk, or regular milk. But really, cream.
1/2c. brown sugar, and white sugar (or splenda) to taste
pinch of salt
1-2tsp of combined cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger-- or use pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice, but then it will taste a lot like your pie, no?
1 bag of mini marshmallows (which are traditional, but big ones cut in half work fine too)
BIG casserole dish (1.5 to 2qts?) and butter or non-stick spray

Heat oven to 350
While that is happening, wash the potatoes well, and poke them all over with a fork, and then you can microwave them until they are very soft.  I'd say at least 20 minutes.
You can boil them and peel them if you like, or you can peel them and boil them (which is harder), but you'll lose nutrients to the water.

Once they are soft and cool enough to handle but still warm, peel the sweet potatoes and dump them in a big bowl. Don't leave too much behind on the skins, scrape if need be.
Mash them up with a potato masher.

Now you can keep going with the masher, or switch to a handheld mixer, or a whisk.
Mix in the soft butter, and the eggs, and mix well.
Should be thick. Now mix in your dairy of choice, a little at a time, until you get to the texture you like.  You are going for a loose mash, but NOT a pie filling.  Get it to where you like it.
Add the pinch of salt, and the brown sugar, and give it a taste for sweetness. Add more brown or white sugar (or splenda, of course) to your taste.
Add the spices-- start with 1tsp of cinnamon and shake in the others if you like them, and taste.

Ok, now the mash is where you like it, yes? Don't eat it all yet. It's better baked.

Grease (with butter, or non-stick spray) your casserole dish, and pour in the mash. Smooth it out. There should be room between the top of the mash and the top of the casserole, to help hold the marshmallows on.
Cover with aluminum, and bake the casserole for about 30-40 minutes at 350 (could be 375 if your oven is set higher for something else).  At this point, you can remove them and wait until closer to dinner, or keep going.

Now, remove the aluminum (did I really need to say that? You're probably stressed out with family coming and everything, so, yes, I did. You're welcome).
Top with mini marshmallows. Don't be shy. We're not talking 1 layer here. Dump them on there and spread them out.  They should sit somewhat above the top of the rim of the casserole dish.
Bake about 10 more minutes, until the marshmallows are puffy and golden, but not over cooked because then they disappear and become a sticky glaze. Not what you want.

I used big marshmallows, and I'm ok with that.

Put out on the table to ooohs and aaaaahs, and enjoy.  I like it warm, and then I really like it cold all the rest of the week!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dreaming of Ice Cream: The Only Chocolate Ice Cream recipe you willever need

This post has been sitting for a while, and now's the perfect time to get it out there for you.  You can trick this out for the holidays with some crushed mint candies, or about 1/4 to 1/2tsp of pure mint extract for an A-MAZING mint chocolate ice cream.

I'm working my way through the Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home book, trying to lower the calories and remove as much sugar and carbohydrates as possible.

So far, the Roasted Rhubarb frozen yogurt was great, and now, I'm working on the Darkest Chocolate Ever ice cream.

As I go along, I'm also experimenting with different types of sugar-free sweeteners and different types of thickeners.

The results so far have been good.  Jeni's recipes don't use eggs for thickening, emulsifying, or texture. Instead, she's discovered a mix of cream cheese, corn syrup, and cornstarch gives good body and scoop-ability to the mix.

I'd like to move away from cornstarch and corn syrup.  In this recipe, I'm working with a mix of guar gum and xanthan gum (I mix them together myself in a roughly 1:1 ratio) for thickening the dairy base.  You could also try the same type of product (a mix of low-carb, fiber-based) that is commercially available, like "thick it up" by Dixie Diner (check out as a reliable online retailer).

I'm also working with xylitol as a sweetener.  It has about 1/2 the calories of sugar, and has some great properties, like actually decreasing the incidence of tooth decay.  In ice cream, I find it helps keep the mix from freezing too hard (though your freezer settings have a LOT to do with that of course) in much the same way that sugar does. 
To lower the calorie count further, I use a syrup made from isomalt (in a 3:1 proportion with water, cook until melted and combined.  Voila! Great substitute for corn syrup. Leftovers will recrystallize in the fridge, however. You can always melt it again).  Isomalt  has about 1/4th the calories of sugar, and has different interesting properties.

Finally, if I need extra sweetness, I can turn to Splenda (powder or liquid concentrate, available in a lot of places), but I've not yet had to use much, if any, of it.

Ok, so that with that preamble out of the way, let's get to the best chocolate ice cream I've ever made, ever!

For the chocolate syrup:
1/2c Very excellent unsweetened cocoa powder (I used the "black label" house brand from my local grocery store, but I've used Ghirardelli in the past for other things and that is excellent too. Use the best you can get your hands on).
Here is my regular cocoa (on the left) and my premium cocoa (on the right):

1.5 oz very excellent very dark chocolate (I used an 85% cocoa solids bar that I like to eat, but you can use lighter chocolate, in the 55% to 70% range will work, but won't be as daaaaark)
1/2 c brewed coffee, or 1.5 T instant coffee mixed into 1/2c hot water (I used this. Decaf even!)
1/2c Xylitol (I use this in about 1:1 with sugar... maybe a bit less, but about that ratio)
pinch of salt (1/8th tsp)--  most chocolate-containing recipes call for salt, because it brings out the flavor in the chocolate more.  I'm not making salted chocolate, so just a pinch, ok?

For the Ice Cream Base:
2T. Isomalt syrup (see notes above)
2c. Whole milk
1c. Heavy cream
1.5 oz (3T.) Fat free cream cheese
1/2c Xylitol (remember, there's sweetness coming from the chocolate syrup)
Isomalt syrup
1/4 tsp thickening gum mix (see note above), and a very fine sieve or a powdered sugar shaker (or use the 1T plus 1tsp cornstarch called for in the original recipe)


First, melt the xylitol and coffee together over medium heat. When all the crystals are gone, mix in the isomalt, and the cocoa. Mix well, until everything is incorporated and glossy. Remove from heat, drop in the chocolate (broken up), and set aside to let melt. Give it a stir once or twice, off heat.

This is the cocoa sitting on top of the other ingredients for the syrup, waiting to be incorporated. Be patient.

Once everything is incorporated, it becomes smooth and glossy

Adding the chocolate to the syrup, off heat. Let it melt in, and stir now and then.

Next, in a separate bowl (medium to large, since this is where everything will come together), mix the cream cheese and the chocolate syrup, added a little at a time, until very smooth.

Prepare a very large bowl with ice and some water.

Then, mix the milk, cream, xylitol, and isomalt syrup together in a 4 qt pot (because it will get foamy), bring to a rolling boil over medium high heat, and boil, stirring, for 4 minutes. 

Starting to boil. See all the room in the pot?

Super boiling now. Note how much less room there is!

Take off the heat, and using a sieve or shaker, sprinkle in the thickening gum powder, while whisking. 
Return to the heat for another minute. 
It will not thicken as much as cornstarch would, but will thicken even more upon cooling.
(If you are using the cornstarch-- mix the cornstarch with a bit of the cold milk to make a slurry, then add the slurry to the milk/cream mixture off heat, then bring back to the heat).
Remove from heat. 

In a medium bowl, whisk a small amount of the hot liquid into the cream cheese/chocolate mixture until smooth. Keep adding and whisking, a little at a time, until all incorporated.

Mix the cream mixture into the chocolate/cream cheese mixture, a bit at a time

Now--either pour the whole thing into a ziptop bag, and put that bag in a big bowl filled with mostly ice and some water OR, put the medium bowl you have everything in already into the bowl, not letting any water get in. Sort of like a cold "bain marie" :)

Here's my medium bowl sitting inside the big bowl of ice and water
You need the mixture completely cold if you are going to make the ice cream right away.  Keep changing out the ice/water as it melts, and give the mixture a stir too, to get the hot and cold sections mixed up.

TIP: If you don't need to make the ice cream right away-- skip this step. Just put some plastic wrap over the mixture so that it's touching it (won't form a skin that way) and refrigerate overnight, and make the ice cream tomorrow.

When you are ready, pour into your ice cream maker and follow the maker's directions until the ice cream is ready (about 25-30 minutes for most brands).

Scoop out and either eat soft-serve right away, or, pack it into an airtight container, and freeze at least 4 hours until firm.

I would totally have a picture of the finished product for you... but I forgot, and then we (and friends) ate it all.  I'll make it again soon though!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Quick Pickle - Easy Spicy Cucumber recipe

I haven't made this in a while, but when my neighbor's cucumber vine meandered over to my side of the fence, I knew exactly what I'd be doing with any bounty that grew on my side (and yes, she knows it's over here, and no, she doesn't mind).
This is the cucumber vine. The one I cut was hanging from that little piece of vine 1/2 way up

I have a real *thing* for fruits and veggies coming right off a tree or plant (could be anywhere, belonging to anyone) that I'm not really ready to share with you just yet, but suffice it to say that growing a few fruits and veggies in my own backyard just totally tickles me!  And, um, keeps me out of trouble...
Here's the first (and only) cucumber on my side, so far:

I think it must've weighed 2lbs?
The "recipe" isn't really a recipe, more of a technique.  I learned it from the amazing folks at The Q restaurant and bar (formerly called BarBersQ) in Napa, CA. If you are in Napa, you MUST go here.

The first time I was there, in 2009, they had pickled cucumbers as a side dish to their delicious barbequed meats, and I was so overwhelmed by the perfect blend of sour and spicy and crunchy, I had to get the recipe.

So, here is my version, because while I'd love to keep this as a secret weapon in my cooking arsenal, it's too good not to share.
cucumber (regular or English/hothouse. If you use an English cuke, peel every other strip off of it, for better flavor penetration).
red onion
jalapeno (fresh) OR some red pepper flakes.
a variety of vinegars: red wine, rice wine (unsweet), regular white, sherry, apple cider.  NOT balsamic.  Try to use at least 2 or 3 different ones, depending what you have in the house.  Sherry vinegar is particularly good, I'd make an effort to acquire that (also delicious in salad dressings, and in this fajita marinade I'll share with you).
seasoned salt (I use Herbemare) if you have it-- if not, regular salt is fine.
peel the cucumber (or peel every other strip, if it's an English cuke), cut it in half lengthwise (or quarters, if it's a monster like mine) and seed it, using a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds but not the firm flesh.
Cut into pretty fine sticks, and then across into small cubes or pieces. 
I used a mandolin slicer (like the one below) and a julienne blade, to get small matchsticks.

see the carrots? that's using the julienne blade (there's usually 2, a big one and a smaller one)

Cut enough red onion to give you about a third to half as much onion as cucumber. Cut into the same size as your cucumber, or slightly finer, if you didn't cut the cucumber small enough.
Combine the onion and cucumber in a bowl.
If you have a fresh jalapeno, cut it open, discard the seeds, and chop finely. Only use the seeds if you want it to be crazy spicy (which you don't).  Add to the cucumber/onion mix.
If you DON'T have a jalapeno sitting around (and unless I plan in advance, I don't), add a pinch of red pepper flakes. How much you use is up to you, but beware! The vinegar really brings out the heat (in my opinion) and letting it marinate develops that heat, so maybe use a bit less than you would think.  Like, start with 1/8th teaspoon and work your way up.
give the mix a sprinkle of salt (whichever type you are using).  A good 1/2 to 1 tsp.
Now add the vinegars-- you want to put in about equal amounts of the ones you are using, until the liquid reaches just about an inch or so below the level of the veggies in your bowl/container.

As I mentioned above, really try to get some sherry vinegar, it seems to make this dish (and the originator made sure to mention it to me).
Here are the vinegars I used. You could make it with 2 or 3, but make sure to use sherry vinegar.  And yes, I do have more vinegars that weren't appropriate for this recipe. 
Give the whole shebang a good stir, and cover (I make this right in one of those BIG Ziploc plastic containers instead of a bowl) and place directly in the refrigerator for a few hours, at least. Overnight is best.

The mix. I used pepper flakes instead of jalapenos.
I can't tell you how long it keeps in the fridge, because it's usually GONE in a day or 2.  I'd say they'd be fine for a week or 2 for sure.  I'd say longer, but you're not doing the whole hot-liquid, canning-jar thing.  And anyway, you'll eat it all up so storage isn't an issue :)
I can't do my regular nutrition analysis on these, since amounts vary.  But cucumbers are really low in calories, and onions aren't too bad, and you're not using any sugar.
OH-- if the marinade winds up too spicy, then do add a pinch of sweetener (splenda, xylitol, sugar, whatever you like)... that will counter the spiciness.

Monday, September 23, 2013

From the Oven: Making light of baking - Honey cake and Banana Yogurt cake/muffins

I've been wrapped up in the renovation, and then travel for work, and then getting really sick because of... well, who knows why one gets a stomach virus, but I can tell you that stress and travel don't HELP at all.

I'm starting to feel better, so I thought I'd update you with some baking experiments I've snuck in here and there (pre-and-post sickness, lest I bake the virus into something...).

It's starting to be Fall here in the northeast, and I didn't have a chance to get together with my family at the big family dinner in September, so I wanted to remind myself of "home" AND try out all my new counter space.

So I dug out my old food processor recipe book.

Don't snicker.  This was my second recipe book (more on my first, some other time) and food processors were making their way into home kitchens in the 80's.  This one, The Pleasures of Your Food Processor by Noreen Gilletz, is basically a version of Second Helpings Please, with the recipes tweaked for the processor (check out her other books as well... looks like the food processor one has a 30th anniversary update!).

I remember reading my mother's copy all the time. There were great tips at the start of most chapters-- like why your cake would have "tunnels" in it, different types of substitutions you could make for ingredients, and metric to Imperial conversions.

My copy has this neat feature where the cover bends back, so it becomes its own recipe stand!

The bend in the cover is so it can fold back and become a recipe stand. GENIUS!

I love a lot of the cake recipes from this book, and the two I've made recently are great in their original format.
However, since I'm watching my calorie intake, I decided to try to lighten up both recipes, and am delighted at my own success!

Honey Cola Cake
My all-time favorite honey cake recipe.  My mom and I aced this cake years ago, which was great because my Great-Aunt Celia also made Honey Cake yearly, but she burned the heck out of them (and I don't think she was aware), and so my first memories of honey cake are not the greatest... but this cake is foolproof, and really delicious.

The original recipe from the above book calls for brown sugar, eggs, 3/4c of oil, 1/2c of cola (could be regular or diet), 1c of honey, and the regular flour, baking powder and baking soda, cinnamon.

I swapped out the entirety of the oil for unsweetened applesauce, which brought the calorie count per slice (for 12 generous slices) down from 363 to 249.
This is a great trick, and can be used in any cake that calls for oil. Substitute some or all of the oil for unsweetened applesauce, which helps keep the cake moist.

By doing this, I lowered the fat from 15g per slice to 1g, and cholesterol became negligible.

I also swapped 1/3 of the brown sugar  for splenda (so 1/2c brown sugar and 1/4c splenda), and reduced the calories further to 232.
You can safely remove 1/4 to 1/3 of the sugar from any cake recipe-- in this case, I kept some in, for it's various properties (aside from sweetening, sugar adds texture, draws in and keeps moisture, adds to browning, tenderizing the gluten... this is why you can't just straight substitute sugar for Splenda or other non-sugar sweeteners, which don't all have these properties).

So the final count for this cake (1/12th) comes to:
232 calories
1g fat
53g carb
4g protein
1g fiber
7% calcium
10% iron
2% vitamin A
trace vitamin C

Here's how to make my lightened Honey Cola Cake:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 cup honey
3/4 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/2 cup diet cola
1/4 cup splenda (bulk)

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Make sure to do this 20-30 minutes before you start baking, to ensure the oven is at the proper temperature (the first beep isn't the right temperature... you basically need a good oven thermometer to ensure you're there).

Grease (or use a spray oil, like Pam) a 12" Bundt pan, or 10" tube pan.  You need that hole in the middle of the pan to ensure the cake bakes evenly.  You could try other pans, but will have to adjust the baking time.

First, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon until blended.
Put aside in another bowl.

Flour mix, set aside, and the applesauce, standing by.

Process the brown sugar splenda, and eggs for about 30 seconds.  Then add applesauce and honey, blend for another 90 seconds.
Eggs and sweeteners (splenda and packed brown sugar) before blending.
Remove processor cover, and add the dry ingredients, pour the cola over that. Pulse for 4-5 quick turns, just until the dry ingredients are incorporated (a few lumps are ok, you can grab those with your spatula).

Immediately pour the batter into your pre-greased pan. 

Before baking

Bake at 325 degrees for about 1hr, and check that the cake is done with a fork or toothpick-- stick it into the middle, and if it comes up pretty clean (a crumb or 2 is fine), you're set.

Also, when the cake starts to pull away from the sides, you are for sure done!
After baking. Yes, it is gorgeous!

Let cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, before you remove from the pan to cool on a cake rack. 

Look at that light texture! It's really a delicious and easy cake.
The cake keeps well (honey is a deterrent to weird things growing, and keeps it moist), and definitely freezes well.


Similarly, I was able to convert my favorite banana cake recipe.  The recipe has yogurt in it for tang and to help leaven the cake (you'll see!).

In this case, I 
replaced the butter with unsweetened applesauce (which is a bit risky-- butter and oil are NOT the same, chemically speaking.  Butter has fat AND water, and milk solids, whereas oil is just a pure liquid fat.  But it seems to have worked), and replaced the 1.5 cups (!) of sugar with 1/2c brown sugar, 1/2c xylitol, and 1/2c splenda.
The brown sugar is more flavorful than white sugar, and contains molasses, which helps make it moist (and is where the brown flavor and color come from).  The Xylitol is a great sugar substitute, with good flavor and browning abilities-- I'm liking it more and more in my sweet treats.  Splenda just adds sweetness, but doesn't do much in terms of texture, which is why I needed the other sweeteners. It is the lowest calorie sweetener of the bunch.

The original recipe made 9 servings, which must've been HUGE... I decided to make muffins, and I made 18 muffins, so we'll compare against that number.

The original would've been 187 calories per muffin, with 6g of fat (3 saturated) and 38mg cholesterol
My lightened version  has 123 calories per muffin, 1g of fat, and 24mg cholesterol.
Lots of folate and B1

here's the stats for 1 of 18 muffins (I made 12 slightly bigger and 6 slightly smaller, but let's say I made them all even, and this would be the count):
123 cal
1g fat
24mg cholesterol
111mg sodium
101mg potassium
27g carb
6g fiber (some of this is how the xylitol is counted)
3g protein
4% calcium
5% iron
2% vitamin C
1% vitamin A
8% B1
7% Folacin

2 large eggs
1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup splenda (bulk)
1/2 cup xylitol
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large bananas
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup greek yogurt 0% fat
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups all-purpose flour

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Do this a good 20-30 minutes before you start baking.

In a food processor, combine the eggs, applesauce, sweeteners, and vanilla.  Whiz for 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl once.
While it's running, drop in the banana in chunks, and whiz until fully processed and smooth.

Meanwhile, in a 2c measuring cup or a bowl, mix 3/4c of yogurt (greek 0% or regular non-fat, or even regular yogurt of a different %, but you'll have higher calories), with the 1tsp of baking soda.
This will take about 2 minutes to DOUBLE IN VOLUME.
Have the kids watch that... :)

Mix the 2c of flour with the 1tsp of baking powder. Set aside.

Mix the yogurt/baking soda puff into the banana mixture with a few quick pulses.
Then mix in the flour/baking powder with about 4 quick pulses.

Pour into your muffin pans,  sprayed with Pam, or a well greased 9x9 pan, or a bundt pan... you can't really go wrong with this recipe.

Well, unless your oven isn't hot enough...then your muffins will be flat, like mine. The leaveners need a quick BLAST of high temperature to start working, and this is why pre-heating your oven is SO CRITICAL.
Let this be a lesson!!!

they still taste delicious though...
Yes, the muffins are flat. My oven wasn't hot enough.  Still delicious, but flat.

Bake for 40 minutes at 350 and check for done-ness.  Bake up to 50 minutes total. (Muffins take less time than a full pan of cake).
Easily frozen, and could be frosted if you like that kind of thing.