Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hot cocoa taste test (& recipe)

A few weeks ago, I made a 'decadent' purchase - $0.55 worth (2 1/2 Tbs?) of Valrhona cocoa powder. If you don't know what the brand is, google it. Basically, it's supposed to be one of the best you can get and super-crazy good. For a couple of months I've been wanting to try to make some good hot cocoa mix. I am ok with the instant stuff for the most part, but all of the fake things in it started to make me wonder what real stuff tastes like. I know I already shared one, but that takes real chocolate and fat-free evaporated milk: two things I don't always have on hand.

Not that I am a complete stranger to homemade cocoa. My mom used to make it on the stove top for us fairly often. Probably because it was cheaper than mix. Actually, maybe it was because me and my little sister used to steal the canisters and keep them in our room and eat the mix dry. That and fruity drink mix. I wonder if my parents ever knew it was us... Plain cocoa cannot be stolen and eaten in the same way, though it does make a tasty hot chocolate.

Back to the point! A few years ago, my mom also told me about something she and my little brother called "cocoa tea" - plain cocoa in hot water. She said it satisfied her chocolate craving. Her chocolate tooth must be different than mine, though, because that stuff never really mixed and didn't taste like much to me. I wanted something fast, easy and that could give control over the sugar added. After some searching of food blogs (in vain), I found it on the Hershey's site, of all places. Their directions and proportions are a little funny, so I've redone them below.

Now, the taste-test bit. With my recipe in hand, I compared 3 kinds: Swiss Miss (instant!), recipe with Hershey's, recipe with Valrhona. Both recipes were made with whole milk, the instant with skim (since it already contains milk.) We had some interesting results. Hershey's definitely tasted most "classic" which I suppose isn't surprising coming from Americans! We thought that the instant just tasted off. The Valrhona had a darker color and flavor, which I really liked. A Korean girl that tasted the three preferred the instant - she said because of the vanilla and other flavors.

I tried this recipe with soymilk, and it mostly worked. Just watch it carefully or else it will boil over and get everywhere. Trust me. I also tried it with one of my favorite uses for instant: thrifty girl's mocha (pictured.) Recipe variation included below.

Hot cocoa
Serves: 1 Prep time: A beautiful 3-5 minutes

1 Tbs cocoa
2 Tbs granulated sugar (or less! or substitute!)
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp vanilla (optional)

- Put the cocoa and sugar in an empty cup
- Add about 2 tablespoons of the milk, and mix until the cocoa and sugar are incorporated. Add a tiny bit more at a time if yours does not turn into a smooth, thick liquid.
- Add remaining milk, give a quick stir, pop in microwave for 90 seconds (stir every 30 seconds if you want, but do watch it to make sure you don't make a mess.)
- Stir, add vanilla if you like or other flavor and drink!

Nutrition facts (using whole milk): Calories - 256 Fat - 8.6g Carbs - 39.2g Protein - 8.8g

Nutrition facts (using 1% milk): Calories - 212 Fat - 3.1g Carbs - 40.3g Protein - 9.2g

Thrifty girl's mocha
Serves: 1 Prep time: A beautiful 3-5 minutes

1 Tbs cocoa
2 Tbs granulated sugar (or less! - I made mine with just 1 Tbs)
3 Tbs half & half (or cream or whole milk)
1 cup freshly brewed coffee
1/4 tsp vanilla (optional)

- Put the cocoa and sugar in an empty cup
- Add the half & half, and mix until the cocoa and sugar are incorporated. Add a tiny bit more if yours does not turn into a smooth, thick liquid.
- Pour in your coffee and stir - mine got that gorgeous foam you see on top.
- Stir, add vanilla or other flavor if you like and drink!

Nutrition facts (using half & half, 1 Tbs sugar): Calories - 122 Fat - 5.9g Carbs - 17.5g Protein - 2.6g

Nutrition facts (using whole milk, 1 Tbs sugar): Calories - 90 Fat - 2.2g Carbs - 17.6g Protein - 2.7g

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Splurge: Daring Bakers' Challenge: Orange Tian

For a while I have been thinking about joining an online cooking or baking group. However, many of them have weekly things to make, and I just can't commit to that right now. And then I found the Daring Kitchen. Their challenges are just one per month. And it's not just any old thing, it's a challenge. After the first one, I'll agree that it is at least making me do new things! Here it is:

The 2010 March Daring Baker's challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse's Cooking School in Paris.

None of the recipe is *tooo* complicated. It just has a lot of steps. Did you know you can caramelize sugar without adding any liquid? I didn't! Or that you marmalade contains the whole orange? Not me, clearly. Or what segmenting an orange means? All new, fun things. Lucky you - I figured out how to do a jump in my blog! So the full recipe, the four pages of it!, is posted if you'd like. Just click the link after the picture.

Keep reading if you want the full recipe

Friday, March 26, 2010

DRAT it all! (But a new look!)

Last week I made some Kale chips. I was apparently ahead of some other food bloggers for once! Even though people have been posting about them for years! But, I kept forgetting to take a picture and being too busy to write the post. So what happens? Somebody else I read often (with a large following) posted hers today. Darn it! And yesterday I even failed to post. *sigh* I could have been before her. I guess that's what I get. I'll post them later. Or next week if I don't have anything else. I might not. Moving on, then...

I found a fantastic thing! How to make Blogger look...... DIFFERENT! I know people can do it. I know normal people do it. So it couldn't be that hard, right? Right?? Well, today I found a blog with tutorials on how to do some of the stuff and started playing with it. Yay! More fun changes to come, do not worry :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Grilled figs

Back when figs were in season (September??) I made these from a recipe in CL, although it isn't available through their site (I wonder if they're changing their policies?) Anyway, it was nicely simple for something that, for me at least, is out of the ordinary. When they're in season, figs can be affordable for a special treat. Otherwise... well, they can be pretty expensive. Instead of tossing them on the grill, I did mine under the broiler. It was quicker because I didn't have a grill heated up, but these would be a fun and 'fancy' barbecue dessert for those of us in climates where fig season is still barbecue season.

The recipe uses plain yogurt. I prefer low fat or full-fat because the texture of non-fat is so... weird. It's runny and almost grainy when compared to the others. No good. Greek yogurt would be really nice, too. Or crème fraiche, mmmmm... if we ignore what it's made of. You could add a sprinkling of seeds or toasted wheat germ or cereal if you want a crunch on top.

Grilled figs
Serves: 2-4 people (1-2 figs per person) Time: 15 minutes

4 fresh figs
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon honey (or double it if you want)

- Mix yogurt and honey, place in fridge if you are doing ahead of time, freezer if directly before cooking the figs
- Wash figs and cut in half, then put cut-side up in a baking dish
- Turn on broiler (or if you have the grill going, brush it off and oil it)
- Place figs under broiler for 3-5 minutes, or until they get a bit more plump and it looks like the juices are trying to run away (on the grill, this may be harder to tell, so be careful not to burn them!)
- Place a dollop of the honey yogurt on top of each half and serve while warm

Nutrition info (for two figs with low fat yogurt mixture): Cal - 146 Fat - 0.8g Protein - 2.9g Carbs - 35g

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Break slacking

Well, as you might have noticed, I did not post a single thing last week. I meant to, I really did. But it was spring break and for part of it, I went camping. Then when I got back, I meant to post, but then I realized how much homework and grading I needed to get done before today. And it still didn't happen. And I had to make something for the Daring Bakers' Challenge (more on the 27th!)

I'll be back on track in the morning, don't you worry. I may even post some camping foods, though I wasn't prescient enough to take pictures. Ah well, can't win at everything.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

(Almost) failed experiment and brownie cutting tip

I guess the first part of this is what NOT to do. There was a ton of fresh mint left over from last Saturday, so I thought, why not try to use it? And what does mint go with? Chocolate, of course! I thought I would be clever and chop up some fresh mint and put it in those amazing cocoa brownies.

I rinsed a large bunch, pulled off each leaf, carefully chopped them into little bits and stirred it in. No flavor. Rinsed, pulled, and chopped a slightly large bunch. Fingers starting to get annoyed at the action. Stirred it in. Not really a flavor. Gave to two others to test. Nope, really just no flavor. Hmmm.... getting discouraged, but will not be beaten to easily! Extra large bunch, rinsed, pulled, chopped! Stirred! Refused to taste in case there was no change. Flavors should blend more in oven, yes? Put in oven, set timer.

As I pulled it out, I could finally smell some mint. Thank goodness. Not nearly done, so put back in for 15 more minutes. When I pulled it out, I was much too impatient to wait for them to cool, so I used an old trick: Cut hot brownies with plastic. A plastic knife would be perfect, but any piece of straight plastic works. In the kitchen there is a (slightly melted) cheap plastic spatula that is really thin, and I used that. Put brownie in mouth: mmmmmm, a nice touch of mint.

Moral of the story: Use mint extract to make mint brownies. And then cut them with a plastic knife while hot. Fingers hurt from chopping, so I'm done now.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pumpkin Raisin Bites

The recipe I used called these cookies, but nobody who tasted them agrees. The words "fluffs" and "puffs" were suggested, but one person pointed out that fluffs sounds like lint and I think puffs is too much like cream puffs or puff pastry - both things with a lot of air and these certainly leave no room for that. They are light and fluffy, but solid.

Don't tell the house, but I snuck something healthy into their diets for my Saturday treat-making duties. The other day I saw that there was a giant thing of pumpkin. And raisins. And many cans of evaporated milk. And whole wheat flour. I thought about pumpkin pie, but it's so much nicer to be able to grab something as you walk past instead of getting a plate. (And I ended up making crustless pumpkin pie a few days later so the pumpkin wouldn't go bad.) As I started looking for pumpkin raisin cookies, I came across one low-fat vegan recipe on many different sites. It looked good, but I doubted its ability to fly in a rather non-vegan environment. After the addition of fat and animal products, and replacing some of the wheat flour with white since I didn't have pastry flour, I thought I had a great recipe.

I mixed everything up and when it came out, they were super tasty. Not at all cookie-like. And not that sweet. Being a person who doesn't need super sweet, I was ok with that. I think they'd be a great treat just the way they are. I also know my audience, though, so I mixed up some glaze that I used on about 3/4 of them. Perfection! I think that the recipe should be really easy to play with - if you want to omit the butter, just use 1/2 cup skim milk. If you want to use soy milk, like the original, go for it. Prefer splenda? That's ok, too. Like any low-fat recipe, these are best eaten the same day or frozen.

Pumpkin Raisin Bites
Makes: 24 3-inch cookies Time: 35 minutes

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup pumpkin
1/4 cup skim milk
1/4 cup butter (unsalted preferred)
1 cup raisins (or use 1/2 and replace other 1/2 with nuts)
Spray oil

- Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease a baking sheet
- Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with HOT water to plump
- Mix dry ingredients (first 8) in a large bowl
- Add remaining ingredients, including raisins, and mix completely
- Drop by tablespoons onto greased baking sheet. They can be close together since the low butter content means they will hardly spread, if at all.
- Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned
- Remove from sheet and let cool on a rack
- Eat like that, or add the glaze

For the glaze (optional):
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk (whole milk gives the thickest glaze, skim the thinnest)

- Mix powdered sugar and milk in a medium bowl
- Dip each bite, upside down, into the glaze. Dip only the top as the glaze will run down the sides on its own. The glaze will harden if you don't eat them all first.
- NOW you can eat it! :)

Nutrition info (1 bite, no glaze): Fat - 2.1g Calories - 94 Carbs - 18g Protein - 1.5g

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saturday Splurge: Slice & Bake Shortbread Cookies

We finally got powdered sugar again and I wanted to celebrate by making shortbread cookies. Ok, actually, I had been wanting to do shortbread for two weeks, but we had been out. My only concern was the time. I get one hour of labor credit for making stuff on Saturdays. I usually take longer, and don't mind, but rolling, cutting, re-chilling and baking shortbread for 100 people sounded a bit too tedious all the same. I knew there HAD to be a better way.

For years my family has made our own slice & bake cookies. As in, you make a triple batch, roll part of it up in plastic wrap, throw it in the freezer, and - POOF! - excellent cookies whenever you want. Since shortbread cookies have to chill anyway (which is part of what makes rolling them a pain - it needs to be all cold for them to keep their shape, but then you need serious muscle to get the dough flat, and by the time you get them cut out, they're warm again and need to chill again) I thought why not put them in logs and just cut them in circles? Less fun? Maybe. But way faster. I made a quick search of the interwebs, just to make sure it wouldn't kill anything, and what I found indicated to me that they should work out just fine.

I would be aware of a couple things here. First, if you want them to be nice circles, you will have to pay some attention to the dough as it chills. It's super soft when warm, so even after I put them in nice rolls, it got flat on one side while in the fridge. re-rolling every 30 minutes would probably work and not increase the chill time too much. The second thing is that you do need to pay attention to thickness to get them to cook properly. And don't try to dip them in cocoa before baking. I did it to some - that's the brown traces in the picture above, but they didn't taste ANY different. Not worth the time. When chilling, be sure there's no fish or other strong smell in the fridge, because the butter will pick it up like it's its baby. This is a standard recipe, so I give credit to anyone and everyone.

Slice & Bake Shortbread Cookies
Makes: about 30 cookies from a 2-inch round log Time: A whole lot less than rolling & cutting them!

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup corn starch (for sturdier cookies, use 2 cups flour, omit cornstarch)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) UNSALTED butter, room temperature (as the butter flavor really comes through, this is more important. I had to use salted and it was ok, but be sure to leave out the salt above.)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

- Cream the butter until smooth
- Add the sugar, cream until smooth
- Beat in the vanilla extract
- Mix flour and cornstarch in a small bowl, then mix into butter mixture until just incorporated
- Scoop dough onto a long piece of plastic wrap, (or several, if you want to have it on hand for small batches) making a line of dough near one edge. Be sure to leave room at the ends.
- Fold near edge of wrap over dough, and roll up dough, closing ends
- Chill in fridge at least 2 hours, up to 1 day (or freeze, well-wrapped, for maybe a month)
- When chilled, preheat oven to 350º
- When oven almost hot, remove dough from fridge/freezer, slice into 1/4 inch cookies and place on ungreased cookie sheet
- Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

... and Grapefruit Curd

This is sort of the second half of Tuesday's healthy pancake post. I made them together, but I think that they are each worth their own post. This was amazing. I read recently that you can make curd (like lemon curd) with any citrus, and really wanted to try it. Then I found a butter-free curd recipe. The grapefruit were purchased. A day later, I found a great looking healthy pancake recipe. On top of that, the pancake recipe gave the option to use just whites. Leaving me some yolks for the curd. Too perfect of a coincidence to pass up.

I decided to make just a half batch (ok, I didn't have enough eggs for a whole one) and, to be honest, I'm not sure if this ever sets up the way I know lemon curd does. It didn't make it to the fridge, I stirred it up while the pancakes were cooking and it was all devoured. Well, not all on the pancakes. Some on yogurt. I became a serious fan of grapefruit yogurt in France. It's such a good combination! Why isn't it in the US? (With rhubarb and fig and pineapple yogurt, too!) I realized that this would make great grapefruit yogurt. The sugar gives it enough sweetness, yet the grapefruit and the plain yogurt keep it tart. A winner in my book.

Grapefruit Curd (Can be made with any citrus!)
Serves: 6-8 Time: 15-20 minutes, more if you want to wait for it to cool

1 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
2 tsps finely grated zest of grapefruit
3/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks

- Place a mesh strainer over a bowl and set aside. [If you want to strain it, I didn't, but I did have a couple of cooked bits of egg in the end result.]
- In a heavy medium saucepan, stir together the grapefruit juice, zest, sugar and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- In a small bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks to break them up. Beat some of the grapefruit mixture into the eggs to temper. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and just begins to become jelly-like, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the curd from the heat and press the curd through the strainer. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd (this prevents a "skin" from forming) and let it cool completely before using. [I didn't do this either, obviously :) I just used it directly.]

Nutrition info (1/8th of recipe): Cal - 113 Fat - 2.4g Protein - 2.4g Carbs - 21.4g

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Oatmeal Cottage Cheese Pancakes (Easily gluten-free, too!)

I love me my pancakes. I've probably said that before. It's sad, though, that they have so little nutritional value. Makes it harder to just make them and eat them. But then I came across this recipe that I just HAD to try. Oatmeal cottage cheese pancakes? Yes, please! It's really cool. It's oatmeal. Cottage cheese. And eggs (or egg whites). Simple enough? I think so. I was a little skeptical of how they might taste, but I really should not have been. I shared a few bites with my taste-testers, who were shocked at how simple and healthy it was. And I put a delicious butter-free grapefruit curd on it to give it a kick flavor. That definitely helped. But the grapefruit curd has its own post. Let's focus on the pancakes for now.

The recipe tells you to blend it all up in a blender or processor, but if you have quick oats (what was on hand in the kitchen the first time I made them) you can just mix it with a spoon. It gave it a really nice texture that everyone appreciated. If you have old-fashioned oats, you REALLY need to at least blend (or food chopper) those a bit  in a blender or processor so that they make a more cohesive batter. The batter is already thick and I spread it out with the measuring cup I was using for a scoop. I used 2% cottage cheese this time, but I would try it with small curd whole milk cottage cheese, too. The original recipe used all egg whites, but I used a mix (some of the yolks went into the topping).

I had these around lunch time, and they all disappeared or I would have saved some for a snack. They are hearty enough for that. And are good with peanut butter, too. The cottage cheese and egg combination puts them through the roof in protein, and oatmeal is (obviously) a whole grain. You can also make it gluten-free if you use gluten-free oats! To make it any more nutritious, it.... I can't think of anything.

Mmmm... blueberries & lemon curd!

Made in the blender - Brown nicely and no burn marks!
Oatmeal Cottage Cheese Pancakes
Serves: 2-3 Time: Depends on your pan/griddle size - 20-30 minutes

1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup oatmeal (quick or old-fashioned) (Gluten-free is an option, too!)
4 eggs or 8 egg whites
Butter or spray oil for pan

- Turn on pan or griddle to medium or medium high
- With quick oats: Mix all ingredients in a bowl or in a processor/blender
- With old-fashioned oats: Process/blend oats and add to bowl with other ingredients, mix (or blend/process all of it for a smoother batter)
- When pan is hot, butter or spray with oil
- Pour into pan using 1/4 to 1/3 cup per pancake. Flatten with scoop if you did not blend it.
- Cook on first side until edges look done and a few air bubbles stay at the surface
- Flip, cook until the color you like is reached

Nutrition info (1/3 of recipe, with 4 eggs): Cal - 255 Fat - 9.1g Protein - 21.3g Carbs - 21.6g

Nutrition info (1/3 of recipe, with 8 egg whites): Cal - 213 Fat - 3.4g Protein - 23.5g Carbs - 21.8g

The dark spots in the picture are where the cottage cheese was at the surface, it didn't taste burnt at all.
Made without a blonder or processor, bigger oatmeal chunks and don't stick together as well. Still tasty!