Friday, March 30, 2007

all about ice cream

A few weeks ago I went to Dairy Queen for dessert after my SIL's birthday party. I decided I may as well go all out and ordered the brownie mudslide something or other, not expecting to finish it, but thinking to enjoy a taste. I ended up throwing almost all of it out. The brownies didn't even taste like chocolate, more like corn syrup, ditto on the chocolate sauce. I was disappointed, but I also realize that I've been spoiled in the ice cream department. So here for your enjoyment this weekend are several ways to top your ice cream that you can make at home, simply, and are full of REAL FOOD.

My husband is a creative dessert genius so many of these are his specialties. He consistently makes blackberries taste better than anyone else I have known.

Blackberry Ginger Sauce

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan place:

12 oz of blackberries fresh or frozen. (One bag of frozen berries from Trader Joe's is the perfect size)

1/2 cup of honey

2-3 tsp minced ginger

Simmer over medium heat stirring occasionally. The berries will start to break down and turn into a syrup. It is quite alright if it is lumpy. Spoon over good quality vanilla ice cream and eat immediately. Any leftover can be stored in a jar in the fridge and keeps for at least two weeks. (It's never lasted longer than that around here so I don't know past that.)

If it's not sweet enough for you, add some more honey.

Raspberry Sauce

Repeat the steps above only leave out the ginger. Feel free to add cinnamon, to help your blood sugar stay stable. Remember, you are pouring this over sweet ice cream, so it doesn't have to be all that sweet itself, go for a nice balance once the two are combined. You can go on and do this with strawberries, I recommend less honey, and blueberries, and Saskatoons (but only if you are in Canada or somewhere far enough north to pick them.) You get the general idea.

My mother used to make home made chocolate sauce all the time when I was growing up. I've adapted her recipe somewhat as she added more sugar than I like.

Hot Fudge Sauce

In a double boiler melt some dark or bittersweet chocolate, once the chocolate has melted stir in cream until it is of a runny enough consistency to pour, or dollop over ice cream. Be careful not to over heat it or work it as it will become grainy. It will harden once on the ice cream and make a sort of crackle shell.

This will also keep in the fridge indefinitely but will need to be warmed again to reserve.

For less expensive versions of this you can start with butter and icing sugar and add cocoa powder and cream until it is smooth and fudgy. Or you can start with baker's chocolate and add sugar and cream. In both of these options you are in complete control of the sugar content, remember it is going with something already sweet. Serve it alone, or add strawberries, bananas, peanuts, etc. and make your own ice cream creations.

Finally we come to caramel sauce. There is a creamery in Bakersfield California that makes the best Caramel sauce I have ever tasted, it's called Rosemarie's and they also make their own ice cream. But since I don't live there and have only stopped through a few times on road trips, we have attempted to make our own, and it's as good I think. Caramel is really just caramelized sugar and butter. I've never tried to make it from scratch completely because real caramel is easy to find. So I start with caramels and a double boiler. Melt the caramels in the double boiler, add a bit more butter (unsalted) for a runnier consistency, and stir in a lot of cinnamon.
WARNING: This is highly addictive and you with find yourself wanting to lick the spoon, your fingers and anything else that gets some on it. This can be poured into a jar while warm and keeps in the cupboard indefinitely. It also needs to be reheated before you can pour it again.

So, if you plan to indulge this weekend, try some of these. They taste way better than anything you can find at the store, I promise. One final word about ice cream. Don't get the yucky fake stuff just because it's cheaper, there's a reason for it being cheaper, get some good quality ice cream and enjoy less of it, you don't need extra servings anyway. If the ingredients contain something other than milk, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla, chocolate, or other natural flavors, especially if they have added oil, do not buy it. Brands that I can recommend are the Breyer's Original, (Not the new and improved creamy kind, it's not an improvement at all and not all natural anymore.) and Double Rainbow Vanilla and Chocolate Fudge available at Trader Joe's.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Whole grains are better for you. They contain many more nutrients than more refined flours because most of the nutrient content is in the germ and the bran. The best kind of flour you can eat is flour that was ground less than 24 hours ago. After 24 hours the nutrients start to die off due to oxidation, (exposure to air) and the longer a flour sits on the shelf the more it resembles glue paste and the less it resembles food. I know a lot of families who have a grain grinder and bulk order buckets of whole grains that they grind in small batches so they always have fresh flour for baking. Not everyone can afford to buy a grinder, like me. (I can borrow my MIL's though, and do often.)

What the rest of us can do is this. Check the dates on the whole wheat flour you buy at the market. Try to get it as recent as possible. Keep your flour in the freezer to keep the oils in the germ from going rancid. If you can't find whole wheat flour at your local store, you can either talk to the manager and request that they keep some in stock, or you can start looking around online and order in bulk. If you live anywhere near where grain is grown, find out where the grain is milled and stored and buy it straight from there. (My grandpa is a farmer so we got all of our flour this way, from his fields.)

One flour that I like to use is King Arthur Flour white whole wheat flour.
Not only is it free from bleaches, bromates, and chemicals, it's a very light whole wheat flour because it is made from winter wheat instead of regular wheat. This flour adapts very well to recipes that call for white flour. Trader Joe's carries it, but so do Albertson's and Von's, so I imagine that if you live in the US it is readily accessible.

One other thing that I have done that is fairly simple to do is to sprout my own wheat berries and add them to bread. This of course assumes that you are making your own bread. Sprouts significantly increase the nutrient content in the grain and make the bread fairly sweet.

To learn how to sprout wheat go here.

I have made bread by just adding the sprouts to the bread recipe, it comes out with a very strong texture and a few hard bits. I prefer to dry the sprouts in the oven for a few hours on its lowest setting and then grind them in the blender before adding them to my flour.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Granola and kid snacks

I forgot a few thing in that last post that make snacks funner.

Spread nut butter and jam, or hummus and cucumbers, or melt some cheese onto a tortilla and then roll it tightly and cut into one inch sections. Kids are usually excited by these little roll ups.

Use a cookie cutter to cut out sandwiches into interesting shapes.

Slice oranges, or kiwi, etc. into circles, or half circles for short people, and arrange in a flower around the outside of a plate. In the center of the flower put a small bowl of dip, or some berries, or both. Presentation is everything with children.

Take a whole carrot and with a sharp knife cut out 3 or four little wedges length wise. Thinly slice the carrot and you end up with a whole bunch of little flower shapes.

Those are just a few more ideas to help you make snacks exciting for your children.

Here is a simple granola recipe.

5 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1cup chopped almonds or whatever else you like
1/2 cup chopped pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
1tsp vanilla extract

preheat oven to 350 F. In a 9"by 13" pan spread out oats and heat for 10 minutes.
In a saucepan melt the butter and add the honey, almonds, coconut, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. Mix into the pan with the oatmeal and bake for 30 minutes. You have to stir it often to get everything toasted evenly.
When it has cooled add 1-2 cups dried fruit (raisins, chopped dates, dried apples, blueberries, cranberries, etc. Sometimes I just cheat and add a bag of trail mix from Trader Joe's, my favorite is the Nuts about Antioxidants blend.)
You can also add 1/2cup of sunflower seeds.
Store in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.

This recipe has no clusters in it, to get that kind of consistency you need to use sugar and bake it more like a bar and then break it up after.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Your questions answered

So Kate wants to know what kinds of leftovers can be used to make soup broth. I make soup the Irish way which is to keep a pot going on the back of the stove and throw in the bits from the daily cooking until the soup is ready. Only in my case the pot is a crockpot and I have the luxury of storing things in the fridge for a while before using them.

If I'm using organic vegetables almost everything goes into soup later. I keep a container in the freezer, or fridge depending on how soon I'll be able to use it. (If my vegetables aren't organic I won't use the peels because I don't want pesticide soup.) Carrot peels, the ends of celery hearts, cauliflower stems, broccoli stems, extra onions if I chop a whole one and don't need it all as well as the ends, the green ends of leeks, etc. I wash everything really well before I use it. I usually save extra vegetables from the dinner table to put in soup when I make it, but that's different from the broth. Remember, you will be tossing whatever it is you are making a broth out of away when this is over. When I have enough in my container I put it all in the crock pot with a bay leaf, perhaps some garlic or spices depending on what I have and what kind of soup I have in mind. I cover the vegetables with water and cook on low for a day, or night, about 10 hours. If you haven't got a crockpot you can simmer everything in a pot on the stove top. You will have to watch it to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot, and keep it covered so you don't lose vital minerals and nutrients through the steam. When finished, drain the broth to use later and discard the mushy mass of veggies, in your compost pile if you have one.

To use meat bones it is the exact same process. After you drain the broth you can pick through the bones and find whatever extra meat is left on them and add it to the broth before freezing.

I use fresh cilantro and parsley leaves a lot in salads and soups, etc. This leaves a lot of stems left over. Often I will puree the stems and leftover leaves with a little bit of water and save it raw to add a fresh flavor boost to soups when they are finished cooking.

One of my favorite Thai soup recipes (Tom Ka Gai) involves simmering together shrimp shells, garlic, lemon grass, galangal, and lime leaves to make the broth. After straining the finished broth you add the shrimp to cook, finely sliced onion, celery, and red pepper, lime juice and cilantro leaves.

Over time you can develop a sense of what tastes good together and get more creative with soup broths, but the fact remains they are incredibly simple in concept and invented in order to use what you have.


Deb and a. Borealis have asked about snacks. On my other computer I have a sort of master list that I made up one time, but that computer and the router just stopped speaking to each other again last week, so until we can find the little manual with the access number on it to fix things I'm borrowing the Genius Husband's computer. (See, the rest of my life is not nearly as organized as my kitchen, things go missing all the time.)

In the meantime I will send you here for some great ideas. Be sure and read the other family nutrition articles too.

I have a few staples that work for me.

Yogurt, nut butters, fruit and vegetables, cheese, wholegrain crackers and breads, and nuts and seeds.

Yogurt is a good base for anything. My kids especially like plain yogurt with apple sauce, sunflower seeds, raisins and cinnamon. These things can be kept on hand and take a few seconds to mix together.

I also cut up leftover fruit and make a fruit salad to which I add yogurt and cinnamon. (Cinnamon tastes good and for some reason it helps to keep your blood sugar steady.)

You can add anything to yogurt, nut butters, fruit, seeds, dried fruit, brewer's yeast, ground nuts, etc. and they will probably eat it. I used to mash up avocado and banana in yogurt when they were babies. It's the only time I've been able to get them to eat avocado, except in avocado pie.

Popsicles. Now that it's spring around here popsicles will reappear. I wrote about those here.

Dipping works for all fruits and vegetables, just cut them into easy to hold shapes and add dips. Fruit can be dipped into peanut butter or almond butter or yogurt, veggies can be dipped into hummus, yogurt with savory seasonings, dressings, guacamole, salsa, etc.

Another classic pairing is grapes and cheese. I loved this as a child and my children love it too. This is a good way to introduce new cheeses also because the grapes help soften the effect of strong flavors.

Celery filled with nut butter and topped with raisins, (ants on a log) is always a favorite around here.

Smoothies, a blend of soymilk, yogurt, protein powder, frozen fruit, nuts, green vegetables snuck in, etc.

I have a muffin tin that makes little tiny muffins. Once maybe every two weeks I will make a big batch of mini muffins and have these on hand to serve for snacks. Almost all of my healthy muffin recipes are from the Super Baby Food book on my side bar, so I can't share without permission, but I highly recommend obtaining it.

What often happens though at our house is a mixed tray of what I have handy. I have these little sectioned plates that I got at Target and use for snacks. A typical snack tray will have almonds, sunflower seeds, cut up apples or oranges or bananas, and some kind of dip. Or it will have baby carrots and broccoli, some dip, some crackers and a few cubes of cheese. These don't take any prep time because I use whatever I have already made. (Yogurt, hummus, crackers, and raid my pantry for the rest.)


If you have any other questions go ahead and leve them in the comments and I'll try to answer them if I know the answer. Ask away.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Fast Food

Okay, I have a big long hopefully helpful post planned really soon, but it's not ready yet so tonight I'm going to tell you about my last minute dinner. Because I know you're dying to hear about it.

I was way behind in running errands today due to some very late nap takers and by the time I got home it was way past dinner time, past the kids bath time and almost bedtime. I did not today have something nifty already cooking in the crockpot. My dinner plans were not made with an emergency toilet paper run in mind, which in my case is a 20 minute walk to the store with 3 kids in tow another hour dragging them through the store and another 20 minutes minimum getting them home. I didn't buy many groceries however, because I have most of what I need for this week already.

I knew that my plans for baked chicken with noodles and sauce were not going to happen tonight, we couldn't wait another hour to eat. So when we walked in the door I had no idea what to eat for dinner and I needed to get it together fast. You all know me, sort of, so you won't be surprised to hear that I have no convenience foods on hand, none nada zip. Okay, I do have some cans of tomato sauce and I make meals ahead but those are pretty much gone and pretty much everything is dry or frozen. Suddenly I remembered that I have all of these turnovers in the freezer so I pulled some out to warm up and figured that that may have to do for dinner. Then behind the turnovers I spotted a lonely little vegetable broth that I made last month and forgot about and I knew what I was going to do about dinner.

I put the frozen soup broth in a pot, turn it on high so it will thaw. I added some rice to cook in the broth. Then I pulled from the fridge some leftover black beans that have gone with two dinners so far this week, into the pot they went, with a can of tomato sauce, some andouille that I had just picked up at the store on a whim, chopped. I madly seasoned for about a minute, covered the whole thing, and 15 minutes later threw in a few handfuls of kale that I had chopped and then frozen and we were enjoying a pretty tasty soup and a salad that I made while the soup was cooking. It was a little rushed but it worked out.

So, I have some habits that made this possible of course, like making soup broth out of all of my usable leftovers, meat bones, and vegetable scraps. And I usually make double what I will need for one meal of just about everything and save the other half for later. These habits are so ingrained now that I don't think about them, it just happens. I was just very pleased to discover that even when plans go awry I don't need to rely on convenience foods to get my people fed.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Sugar Sensitive Child

On Saturday the Boy had an incident. On Thursday morning we also had an incident, there was a brief one on Monday as well. Monday and Thursday’s incidents were occasioned by the fact the Boy hadn’t yet gotten himself breakfast even though it was 9am already and he rises between 7 and 7:30am. On Saturday it was because his great grandparents arrived with lunch and nasty packaged cookies and donuts. I let him have one of each after lunch because it was still Shabbat and so treats are technically allowed. Allow me to describe the scene that followed.

Half an hour after eating Boy comes in crying, not just regular crying, deep chest shaking sobs are erupting out of him, hiccups and belches and incoherent sentences accompany this crying. We find out what’s going on that’s upsetting him. (The bigger kids want him to stop jumping on the trampoline for a minute so that they can mark lines with duct tape for a game they have planned.) We send him back out with a solution to try. He returns a minute later sobbing as though the entire weight of the world is upon his tiny little shoulders. He proceeds to sob and hiccup and wail for a good half an hour. People, this is not fake crying, which he often likes to do, this is not his regular response to not getting his way or being thwarted, this is apocalyptic crying that just doesn’t stop. He will go on like this for hours.

We are experienced at dealing with this sort of thing now, so we let him cry, though still expecting him to comply with our directions, and without lecture or judgment we cut up some cheese and offer it to him. (Cheese has protein and fat and no sugar so it’s a good thing to throw at a brain that’s in severe chemical flux because of blood sugar, it helps to release one of the relaxing chemicals in the brain seretonin I think but don’t quote me, which is why a heavy meal of starch and cheese and meat will put you to sleep. Yogurt will be better, but it’s harder to coax a 5 year old to eat yogurt when he’s bawling his eyes out and you don’t want it spilled.)

Eventually he manages to gain control over himself to start munching on the cheese hiccupping and choking back sobs as he chews. Ten minutes or so go by. He is now quiet though still tormented looking. After another 15 minutes of sitting on the couch we ask him how he’s doing. He gives us a sunny smile and tells us he feels fine and with a quick, “Thanks mom” and a hug he runs off to play. The day is without further incidents as we make sure that dinner is early.

This ladies and gentlemen is why I keep my child’s sugar intake as low as I can. I have at least one sugar sensitive child and he has a fast metabolism so the results are easy to observe. My mother in law thinks I’m a little obsessive about it, though she respects my wishes in it. That is until Saturday, the meltdown happened at her house and she got to watch it and it’s resolution, and I think she gets it now.

I am sharing this because it may help some other parents out there who have children prone to inexplicable meltdowns and long bouts of sadness. In my child these go on indefinitely, unless I can get him to eat something that will help.

So if you have a child who is prone to this type of behaviour, who seems like Jekyll and Hyde, it may help to track their eating for a while, and notice the timing of such episodes as they are related to diet. Look for episodes that follow on the heels of recent sugar intakes, especially without meals or with meals that are low in protein and fiber, and long stretches of time without food. I’ve met a lot of children who have obvious, to me but I know where to look, sugar sensitivities. Their parents are often baffled, perplexed, confused and helpless in the face of these meltdowns. It won’t kill your child to give them less sugar and experiment with diet to see if that is one of the factors, in fact it’s good for them even if that isn’t the ultimate solution.

I hope this helps.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Home Made Mac & Cheese

Let's talk about macaroni and cheese. It's a North American staple, kids love it, college students live on it, you can get it on sale for 30 cents a box. To bad it's not food. At least, I don't consider anything that is neon orange and made from white flour real food. In the past few years some alternatives have graced the shelves of supermarkets, notably the Annie's home grown and Annie's organic brands. In my opinion these are definitely better, they have no preservatives or additives and the ingredients seem to be of better quality. The price however is a lot higher.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. You can make your own mac and cheese in about the same amount of time as it takes to make the kind that comes in a box, and it tastes better.

Here's how.

In a medium sized saucepan bring water to a boil and add some salt. For exact proportions read the instructions on the package of whole wheat macaroni noodles you are about to add to the boiling water.

While the noodles are cooking shred some cheese with a grater. (If you want it to be even more convenient purchase cheese that is already shredded, or do a large amount yourself after getting home from the store for use at times such as these.) You will probably want at least half a cup. When the noodles are sufficiently cooked drain the water reserving about 2 tbsps of the salted water for the sauce. (You do this by not quite pouring all of it out when you drain it.) In the sauce pan combine the noodles, reserved water, cheese, 1 tbsp butter at least, and a splash or two of milk. Do this immediately while the noodles are still hot. Stir vigorously until all of the cheese is melted and the sauce is nice and creamy and serve immediately.

Some of the things I've learned over the years when doing this include: Whole wheat noodles have a stronger flavor and texture so it works best to use a stronger flavored cheese such as sharp cheddar, aged white cheddar, parmesan, and goat cheese(which doesn't need to be shredded). I highly recomend the Trader Joe's Quatro Formaggio blend of shredded cheese, it makes mac and cheese taste almost sophisticated, especially when paired with their olive and sundried tomato bruschetta. Also, if you don't mind dirtying more than one pot you can make a proper white sauce in the time it takes noodles to cook. It's basically exactly the same thing with flour added and more milk instead of water but some people prefer it.

Melt butter in a pan, with a whisk or fork stir in a few spoonfuls of flour until smooth. While still stirring slowly add milk/cream, a pinch of salt and finally stir in cheese. Pour over cooked noodles and serve. You can saute crushed garlic and ground pepper in the butter first for a tasty flavor addition and add whatever spices you want. This is the base of most cream soups, and most creamy pasta sauces. Don't you feel smart now? Especially since you know how much fat is in it now?
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