Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

We have an icky bug floating around the house. It’s just a cold, but there are five of us. And when we have an icky bug, it can take weeks to run it’s course through our family. We still have a few sniffles, but we’re almost in the clear. The little one started it all. She missed school last Friday because of it. And of course they had something special planned that day. It breaks my heart when they’re sick. It’s worse when they miss an event they’ve been looking forward to all week because of it. This called for a little extra mommy lovin’.

So I had to re-create “warm and cozy day” at home. Especially since she was fighting a cold. We made hot chocolate from scratch. I haven’t bought that stuff in the packets in over a year.  We used to always have it around. So now when I make hot chocolate, it’s extra special.

While I prepared the hot chocolate, she picked a spot and arranged our picnic blanket and her stuffed “aminals”. She came to the kitchen several times. She’d grab my hand and lead me into the living room and ask “Is this okay?” They are unbelievably cute when they’re three.

The cookies were Trader Joe’s Highbrow Chocolate Chips. We don’t normally have this kind of thing in the house, but they were leftover from an event over the holidays. I was saving them for an emergency, and this seemed like the right time. The warm, creamy hot chocolate and those crispy cookies were perfect together. She forgot all about school.

“Uh oh. I had a little accident Mommy.” No problem. I worried that the all that chocolate would keep her from napping, but she slept soundly. The fever never came back after that. I doubt it had much to do with our warm and cozy hot chocolate, but who knows. I let her believe it was the cure.

Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups organic whole milk
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • pinch of  sea salt
  • 2 ounces good quality dark chocolate (or 1 square)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil
  • splash of organic heavy cream or half and half (optional)
  • marshmallows are optional

Method:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, coconut oil and salt until dissolved.
  3. Stir in the chocolate until melted.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool slightly or add a splash of cold heavy cream or half and half, or a dollop of whipped cream. Throw in a few marshmallows if desired. Makes 2 servings.

I decided to add the coconut oil not just for a little more flavor, but to make it a little extra nourishing for my feverish lil’ pumpkin. And to strengthen my immune system, just in case I was next… I was.

Coconut oil has been used for centuries to treat illnesses.

The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system. (from organicfacts.net)

I also had some homemade almond flavored whipped cream leftover from the a few nights before. Whipped cream is ridiculously easy to make from scratch. A cup of organic heavy cream, a few tablespoons of confectioners sugar and some almond extract, all whipped together with a stand or handheld mixer on high speed until thick and creamy. You can substitute with whatever extract you prefer. Store bought whipped cream isn’t anywhere near this good.

I doubled the recipe so I’d have enough leftover for the other two when they came from school. Friday treat!!

White Chocolate Cranberry Scones

Last week I received an email from my middleschoolers’ math teacher. I got nervous when I saw her teacher’s name in my inbox.

She’s been struggling in this class. There are only two weeks left to bring up her grade and I feared she was going to tell me that she was going to fail the quarter.

Instead, I was relieved to hear that she had seen real improvement and focus in Haleigh since they’ve been back from winter break. What a relief.

A Friday Treat was in order, to reward my girl for her hard work. Something sweet, but not too sweet.

White Chocolate Cranberry Scones

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups organic whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup organic sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 tablespoons real unsalted butter (cold or frozen, sliced)
  • 1/2 cup organic sour cream
  • 1 large pastured egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried organic cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white morsels
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Process the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and butter in a food processor until everything is combined. (You can cut the butter into the dry ingredients by hand if you don’t have a food processor.) The texture of this mixture should resemble corn meal.
  3. In a medium bowl beat eggs and sour cream together, then add the flour and butter mixture to the eggs and sour cream. Mix until combined, but don’t over mix. Scones are supposed to have a rough, crumbly texture.
  4. Gently mix in the chopped cranberries, white morsels and chia seeds just until they are evenly distributed through the dough. You may find that you’ll need to use your hands to gently knead them in evenly and to bring the dough together, but don’t over handle.
  5. Dump the dough on to a floured surface and gently pat out into a large disk, about 3/4 inch thick. Cut the dough like a pizza into 8 pieces and place them on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Cool for 5 minutes (if you can wait that long).

(Click here for a printer friendly version.)

My kids loved these! They have a lot less sugar than a chocolate chip cookie, but the kids didn’t mind a bit. Other than that they aren’t much different from cookies. I might cut them into 12 next time and shorten the cooking time just a bit. One scone seemed like too much. You could also substitute almost any dried fruit and any kind of baking chips (or leave them out if you want). It’s a really versatile recipe and easy to tailor to suit different tastes. But make sure you use real butter. Margarine contains too much water which might make the dough too wet. And get unsalted. I never understood why recipes called for unsalted butter, but called for salt later all, until recently. Most cooks will tell you that unsalted butter is “purer” and fresher than salted butter. Salt can be added to improve any “off” taste and to preserve older butter. More care is taken with unsalted butter and therefore the quality and taste is better. At least that’s the idea. Some say that in today’s market, there isn’t really a difference between the two, except that one is saltier. Who knows. But just to be sure, I now only buy unsalted. I can add my own salt (which is probably better than theirs anyway.)

By the way, chia seeds might be hard to find, but they’re worth looking for. I get them at a local health food store, Healthy Home Market. They have more Omega-3′s than flax seeds and are rich in antioxidants. Those tiny black seeds remind of poppy seeds, so I sprinkled some on top.  Ch-ch-ch-chia! (Sorry couldn’t resist.)

Grandma’s Number 1 Perfect Apple Cobbler

Grandma was right. This is definitely “Number 1 Perfect Apple Cobbler”. I don’t recall ever eating this cobbler made by Grandma. She lived out of state and we didn’t get to spend much time together. Maybe twice a year when I was growing up. Even less when I grew up and had a family of my own.  She passed away a few months ago. But my Grandma was something special. She wasn’t stuffy and prudish. Nor was she soft and gentle. But she was warm and fun. She was known to enjoy a couple of beers and she loved to play cards… and smile and laugh. She was in a bowling league for decades into her ripe old age. She was a ‘people person’. I will always remember her smiling, singing and dancing around. And if she wasn’t doing any of that, she was humming. Always. While she worked on her crossword puzzles. Or even when she was just strolling around the room, with one hand planted firmly on her hip. She was a ‘lefty’, and I swear there is just something special about lefties. I do miss her.

I stumbled across her recipe for apple cobbler a week ago. And what do you know? It’s apple season and I had a ton of them in the refrigerator. This apple cobbler was meant to be.

What I love about the recipe (besides that it’s damn good)  is the simplicity. It’s so quick and easy that you could be eating it within an hour of starting the recipe. And it only contains staple ingredients you would find in most kitchens. You don’t need any baking powder (something I frequently forget to restock) or corn starch. It’s just apples, a little lemon juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, eggs and butter. I followed the recipe nearly to the letter because I wanted to taste her apple cobbler. I only needed about 6 apples since mine were fairly large and I used the juice from one not so juicy lemon, which may have been more like 1 1/2 tbs. Her recipe also calls for “oleo”, which makes this recipe even more charming to me. Oleo is an old-fashioned term used sometimes for butter or oil, but usually for margarine. I used real butter.

I should also say that technically, this may be more of a “crumble” than a cobbler, just in case you are looking for a true cobbler recipe. I thought it was a little bit unusual that there was an egg in the topping. Most recipes only call for butter, flour and sugar in the dough. The egg though, is what gave it the extra crunch that I loved so much. I also love that the apple “filling” is just apples and a little lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. No milk or water to make it soupy. No flour to thicken it. No added sugar to sweeten it. Just apples!  (I say to you with both hands in the air! Do you know how happy this simple detail makes me?) I wouldn’t use Granny Smith or cooking apples for this recipe. It would probably end up too tart and too dry. But if that’s all you have then just add maybe a 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of water or juice to the apples. They may also need just a few more minutes in the oven to get them nice and soft. I almost always prefer to use regular eating apples and cut back on the refined sugar in any recipe. I used mostly Golden Delicious and a few Pink Ladies that I bought from Matthews Community Farmers’ Market (my favorite source for locally grown food).

I’m not sure if any of you actually care about the quality of the ingredients that I use. But I have a feeling some of you might. So from now on I’m going to put my first choice for ingredients first and then, in parenthesis the more common substitute in a sort of sliding scale. If I use organic, obviously the regular stuff will work in it’s place. I won’t bore you with every detail on each ingredient, but I’ll share this with you instead. Most of my produce and the little bit of meat we consume comes from the Matthews Community Farmers Market. Everything is grown or raised within 50 miles and the produce is either USDA Organic, organically grown (without the costly USDA certification) or grown with minimal amounts of the safest pesticides or chemicals possible to save crops from complete devastation; and the animals are all raised on pasture. I am confident that this is true because these farmers and vendors feel as passionately about real, unadulterated food as I do. Some of them are members and supporters of Slow Food. The vendors and the patrons all care about things like sustainable farming and the humane treatment of animals. If they didn’t, they’d be selling at another farmers market. This is the best farmers market in the Charlotte/Matthews area, I assure you. Also I usually buy organic when it comes to these big three:  corn, soy and wheat products – to avoid controversial genetically modified food (GMO’s). I wouldn’t be as worried about these, IF they weren’t in the majority of the products found in grocery stores (in one form or another). So here we go:

Mabel’s “Number 1 Perfect Apple Cobbler”

  • 8-10 local, organic apples, peeled and sliced (mine were not organic, but no detectable residues were found on the fruit upon testing, obviously commercial organic or regular apples can be used)
  • 1 Tbs. organic lemon juice (non-organic is probably okay when it comes to citrus juice)
  • 1 c. organic evaporated cane juice  (I used 3/4 cup since my apples were sweet and because I always try recipes with 1/4 to 1/3 less sugar at first. 3/4 cup was enough for our taste. Organic sugar or regular sugar works fine.)
  • 1 c. King Arthur’s organic all-purpose flour (Local and organic is better if you can find it. Hoffner Organic Farms has some, but regular flour will work, whole wheat flour is probably okay too)
  • 1 tsp. organic cinnamon (non-organic cinnamon will do)
  • dash of real sea salt (any sea salt or regular table salt)
  • 1 local, pastured egg, beaten (organic, cage free or free range or regular eggs will work)
  • 4 tbs. oleo (butter), melted (I used Kerrygold unsalted, which is pastured, but imported from Ireland. Organic butter or ordinary butter will work.)

Method:

Pour lemon juice over apples. Mix dry ingredients and egg until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples in 5 x 9 baking dish (a 9″ square pan worked just fine for me). Drizzle with the melted butter. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. “You can use peaches instead of apples if desired.”  (I’ll remember that when peaches are in season!)

5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw Away

1. Leave that peel alone. It’s good for you. Lots of fiber. The fiber in the peel keeps the sugar in fruits and veggies from converting to glucose too quickly which keeps your blood glucose level more stable. And we all know fiber is good for… um… digestion. Besides leaving it on saves you the hassle of peeling it. Even when making mashed potatoes, I leave the skins on (tastes better that way too). I want my kids to learn to eat the peel on fruits and veggies, so I rarely ever peel anything that has edible skin. (I do not feed my kids banana peels or orange rinds.) Carrot skins are okay too! Just give them a good scrub with a vegetable brush. Also, did you know that you can eat the skin on kiwi and mango? Haven’t tried this yet, but I plan too. I wonder what other peels are edible that I didn’t know about…Also buy organic, other wise you’re faced with an unnecessary decision. To peel, or not to peel? (Some of pesticides still gets inside the fruit, so you can’t avoid it completely by peeling.) I just choose organic so I get the best of both worlds. Lots of fiber and no pesticides.


2. Zest those lemons, limes and oranges before you peel or juice them. Especially if you buy organic. The flavor of the zest is much more powerful and tasty than the juice. And the essential oil in the skin is good for you. You can store it in the refrigerator for a little while (maybe a few days to a week) or you can store it in the freezer. I have some there now. You can also dry it or make candied citrus zest (yum – and I bet the leftover infused syrup from the candying process is good too).


3. Don’t throw away the broccoli and cauliflower stalks. Peel the tough outer layer away and slice, shred or dice the stalk. I usually cut it into planks and cook it with rest of the broccoli, or dice it and add it to things like macaroni and cheese. It would work in soups and other pasta dishes I’m sure. And anywhere you might add some diced potatoes.


4. Save those tops and leaves! The top leaves of some root vegetables can be cooked as greens. Good luck finding these veggies with greens still attached though. Most grocery stores only sell the trimmed versions. A few better ones might have them with the greens. I’ve seen carrots with greens still attached at Harris Teeter. Farmers market usually sell them this way as well. Beet greens are great. I’ve tried the carrot tops without a recipe and ruined them. Next time maybe I’ll try something from this website. Mine were probably too old, causing them to be tough and bitter. Radish greens are also edible, though I haven’t met a radish I like yet.


5. If you do have scraps, save them for stocks! I keep a container in the freezer just for this. I add it to the pot when I make chicken stock and if it gets full before then, I just make vegetable stock. Tops of tomatoes and onions, celery leaves, etc. I also store the stock in the freezer if I’m not going to use it right away.

Compost what you can’t use for stocks. I also throw the veg leftover from making stock into the compost. Hardly anything is wasted around here. At least not on purpose. Compost is the best fertilizer for your garden. Even if you don’t have a vegetable garden, flowers and plants love it too!

4th of July Barbecue

It’s hot. Maybe too hot to grill. But we’re doing it anyway. Ice cold mojitos will keep us cool! Looking forward to burgers made with pork from local, pastured pigs and slaw made with Linsey’s cabbage from the garden, fennel – also from the garden – and onions and peppers from the farmers market. Veggie and mushroom skewers to round the meal out – onions, peppers and tomatoes (from the garden) and mushrooms. Maybe homemade vanilla ice cream sweetened with maple syrup for desert, using local milk, organic cream… topped with local, organic blueberries. Seasonal, local, home grown – and yummy! Happy 4th!

Fed Up with Food Restrictions

I’m really, really hating the food restrictions (gluten free and casein free). I know my last couple of posts sounded so positive and I’ve been trying really hard to be optimistic about the whole thing, but it’s wearing me down. It’ exhausting! Saying “no” to the kids (and myself) too often, finding gluten free substitutes for staples like bread and crackers (which so far taste horrible and are unbelievably  expensive), searching for gluten free recipes, missing warm, chewy bread… homemade ice cream and yogurt, macaroni and cheese… And you know what else? The second ingredient in soy sauce is wheat. Who knew!? (Hello? My mother is Korean… We use soy sauce at least a couple times a week.) I had no clue that gluten is in so many things – things I never would have even thought to check, like soy sauce. This gluten free thing may not go on much longer. Totally eliminating gluten doesn’t feel well balanced. This has been an eye opening experience and we’ll never go back to eating as much gluten as we were before, but my gut is telling me that a little is okay. All things in moderation…

I’ve been loosening up on the dairy a little (reintroducing it) to see if it negatively affects Linsey. A little goat cheese here. A little cottage cheese there. A little ice cream here and there. Sadly, she’s been getting stomach aches and digestive issues shortly after eating these foods. There also seems to be a slight increase in irritability and behavioral issues, but I can’t be sure.  She is so aware of the effects herself that she’s been reminding us that she should not eat dairy. She even admitted that she got a stomach ache after having a pretty small amount of ice cream. For her to admit that, is a major step on her part. I think the connection has been made for her and skipping dairy won’t be hard for her anymore. (Though I’m sure there will be occasions when she won’t be able to resist and will be willing to risk a stomach ache for something really yummy, like a little bit of ice cream. I think very small amounts every now and then are still okay.)

In light of the fact that she is most likely intolerant to casein (dairy), once we get her all better and give her a week or two to really make sure her gut has completely healed, we’re going to reintroduce some gluten and see what happens. My guess is that small amounts will be okay.

Now just some random stuff…

These came in the mail this week.

I’m looking forward to making my very own vanilla extract, vanilla sugar and having real vanilla beans to flavor foods (like ice cream)!

Here’s something else I love:

I had tons of mint growing in a container out front and I had to do something with it quick.  Having this mint infused simple syrup around is making it really difficult to drink unsweetened green tea. And do you see that wad of mint leaves that was left over? I worked really hard to fight an urge to put that in my mouth like chew (or dip, or whatever it’s called) to get the remaining sweet, minty syrup out of it before tossing it in the compost. I had a little argument in my head while I cleaned up the rest of my culinary mess: Don’t be ridiculous. If you stick that in your mouth, you’ve gone over the deep end. But wait… in the interest of frugality, using every morsel of food and not being wasteful… maybe I should. It took a couple or ten, fifteen minutes to come to my senses, but of course I couldn’t resist – and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It was unimaginably delicious and took me by surprise. I literally had to stop what I was doing, lean against the counter and savor the thing. I’d do it again (and probably will). I even pondered duplicating this in some way as candy. Maybe… candied mint leaves? This was definitely the best candy I’ve ever had! Pondering again…

This is not purple broccoli. It’s purple cauliflower. (I’ve had to repeat this several times to my family.)  I love how the farmers market broadens our view of food. Good luck finding it in the grocery store. Beautiful and yummy!

More goodies from the farmers market. I split these carrots in half, tossed them in a little olive oil, honey, salt and pepper, then threw them in a grill pan and roasted them in the oven. They were good enough to be eaten for dessert. Carrots lose their flavor quickly after being harvested and these are fresher than any you’ll find at the grocery store.

Proof my garden is organic. There are no pesticides here. I don’t mind sharing. There is plenty for everyone!

Food my kids love:

Guilt Free Banana Popsicles: Cut a banana in half, insert popsicle sticks and freeze for at least 2 hours (longer is better). My kids also love frozen grapes pierced with toothpicks. (Thanks mom!)

And of course their very favorite – kettle corn – a traditional part of our family movie nights!

Casarecce Pasta with Mascarpone and Sage-Walnut Butter, Peas, Broccoli and Kale

Casarecce

I had some mascarpone cheese that I’d bought a couple of weeks ago and have been trying to figure out what to do with it. Most recipes that call for mascarpone are desserts or sweet dishes and I knew I didn’t want to go that route. So I found this recipe (which actually came from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop) and made it more nutrient dense by adding a ton of vegetables: fresh English peas, kale, chard and broccoli. I also used brown rice casarecce pasta (which I had never heard of before finding it at Healthy Home Market last weekend) instead of fettuccine to make it gluten free… and I substituted half the butter with bacon drippings leftover from breakfast. You can either use all butter or half butter and half bacon drippings, but I don’t recommend using olive oil, lard or anything like that. You’ll be sacrificing flavor. I doubled the sauce and cheese to make sure there was enough to coat the added vegetables.

Haleigh (my picky eater) loved it and asked for seconds. She didn’t mind that there was more veg than pasta and cheese or that there wasn’t any meat. Or maybe she didn’t notice because it all tasted so darn good. She loved the peas. She remarked that the pasta with the sage-walnut butter was good enough to eat by itself. But we all agreed that the mascarpone-Parmesan cheese mixture is what pushed this dish over the top. We’ll be making this again for sure. Here’s my seasonal, nutrient dense version:

Casarecce Pasta with Mascarpone and Sage-Walnut Brown Butter, Peas, Broccoli and Kale

  • 1 cup Mascarpone Cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 to 3 cloves of Garlic
  • 1 cup Kale (cooked) – I used a mixture of kale and chard from our garden, but you could substitute any greens.
  • 1 cup fresh Peas (or frozen) – I used fresh English peas from the farmers market and a handful from our garden.
  • Parsley, optional (from our garden)
  • 12 ounces Pasta – I used organic brown rice casarecce, but you can use whatever you have on hand.
  • 6 tablespoons Butter – I used 3 tbs salted Kerrygold butter and 3 tbs bacon drippings.*
  • 1 cup chopped Walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh Sage leaves
  • 1 bunch Broccoli

Method:

  1. Combine mascarpone, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper in small bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork until smooth. Set aside and allow it to come to room temperature.
  2. Prep veg: Cut up broccoli and kale; mince garlic, sage; and rough cut parsley.
  3. Start pasta water. I recommend adding a tablespoon of salt to the water.
  4. Steam broccoli, kale and peas separately (because they don’t cook at the same rate and to keep their flavors separate). You can do this anyway you like. I’m all about short cuts, so I used the microwave. Put a small amount of water (1/4 cup or less) in the bottom of glass dish with lid (like Pyrex). Preferably a vented lid, but you can just leave one corner open if you don’t have vented lids. I also like to add a little salt to the water for broccoli. The broccoli took 3 or 4 minutes (start with 2 minutes, then turn, stir or shake gently and add a minute at a time until it’s crisp tender and beautifully green). The peas and kale only took about 2 minutes each. Make sure you run the vegetables in cold water when they are done, to stop them from over cooking. Squeeze the excess water from the kale. Set aside.
  5. Once the water starts boiling and the pasta goes in, melt the butter (and bacon drippings, if you’re using) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, walnuts and sage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Drain pasta when done, then add it and the vegetables to the pan with sage-walnut butter. Toss and cook gently over low heat for a minute or two.
  7. Serve pasta with a dollop of the mascarpone-Parmesan cheese mixture and a sprinkle of parsley. Yeah, you could just mix the cheese and parsley in with the pasta, but hey – a little presentation goes a long way!

This dish is versatile, as most pasta dishes are. You can use any pasta and just about any vegetable in any amount (though you may need to increase or decrease the cheese mixture and butter sauce to account for the change). There was enough left over for Brian and I to have for lunch today.

I  tried really hard to get the kids involved, but in the end the only cooperation I got was from London. She helped me wash the vegetables.

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