Yogurt

One of my new favorite yummy pleasures (obsessions) is plain yogurt.  I had tried some a few years ago and thought it was awful, but recently I bought a whole milk, organic version from a brand called “Brown Cow.”  Oh, wow.  It was so creamy and absolutely delicious.  The reason I decided to try it is because of a pantry makeover that we’re trying to do as a family.  We are trying to cut back our sugar (or sugar-free sweetener) intake while eating, as much as possible, food that we personally cook from scratch.

What does that have to do with yogurt?  Well, I decided to make my own.  Does that sound crazy?  Because it really isn’t, it’s SO easy!

I decided to make my own yogurt for a few reasons.  Yogurt is expensive!  Even if you buy it in the large tubs.  If you want it unsweetened and especially if you want it organic, your shelling out some $4 for 32 oz. of yogurt. I can make 42 oz. of yogurt for around the price of 42 oz. of milk.  It comes out in between $1 and $2 depending upon whether or not I buy a yogurt starter or use a previous batch or if I buy organic milk or not.  Another reason is that my girls are a bit addicted to sugar (like the rest of us), and Yoplait doesn’t help matters!  Abby won’t drink cow’s milk, so I’m doing my best to get her calcium everyday.  Yogurt is so healthy, so yummy and tangy without all that added sugar, and when you make it yourself it tastes like the creamiest pleasure without the tiniest guilt!  Have I talked it up enough?  Well, let me tell you now how easy it is in case you’ve never been interested enough to research it.  (I hadn’t until one day I was reading “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat“.)

Here’s what I do.  I bring 36 oz. of milk to a boil, just warm enough to crawl up the sides and steam real well.  I cool and add to 6-7 oz. of room temperature plain yogurt.  First add half and whisk, then add remaining half and whisk until mixed well.  Keep warm for between 6 and 12 hours depending on how runny or thick you’d like your yogurt to be.  Then refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.  SIMPLE!

Keeping the yogurt warm is the tricky part.  Lots of people do a number of DIY methods to keep it warm.  Crock pot.  Oven.  A cooler with hot rags.  There’s lot of ways.  I decided to make a small investment in a yogurt maker, and I couldn’t be happier.  I’ve made about 10 batches so far, one about every other day.  Each batch gives me 7, 6 oz. jars of yogurt.  I use one of the 7 jars as my starter for the next batch.  I bought a yogurt maker because I really wanted to get into this, and I wanted it doable with my current lifestyle, and the investment was minimal ($25) considering how much money I’ll save.

We’ve now started using our yogurt as a replacement for milk in cereal and a number of other things.  And, what a simply yummy and healthy dessert with added fruit or jelly or honey!

My next venture is homemade granola.  Lord knows I need to save some money there!  CO grocery stores give you too many incredible options for granola!

Butternut Squash Pancakes

We were getting dinner ready to go tonight, and I pulled some frozen, diced butternut squash out of the freezer as a vegetable side.  I was feeling creative and came up with something kill-ah!  Oh, let me tell you.  These were amazing!  Everybody, especially the girls L-O-V-E-D these!  I’m just going to jot down what I did here.  Feel free to edit as you like.  I HOPE you try these!

Butternut Squash Pancakes

Ingredients

10 oz bag frozen, cubed butternut squash

1 egg

1/3 c. of whole-grain pancake/waffle mix (no sugar)

1 t. of splenda brown sugar

1 t. canola oil

1 T. milk

dash each of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg

pat of butter

Directions

Microwave squash, covered in a microwave-safe bowl for about 4 minutes or until squash is cooked.  You may need to stir half-way through.  After 4 minutes squash should be very tender and squishy.  Using a mesh colander, drain and “squash” out excess water.  Return to bowl.  Mash well and add egg, oil, milk, sugar, and spices.  Stir until egg in well-combined.  Add small amounts of pancake mix, stirring in between until desired thickness of batter is achieved.  Coat a nonstick griddle or large frying pan with cooking spray and heat to high.  Add a pat of butter.  When sizzling and butter is melted, scoop pancake batter with 1/4 cup scoops onto griddle.  Fry each on med-high, flipping when bubbles begin to form around the edges.  Fry an additional 2 minutes or so until lightly browned on each side.  Serve with the tiniest drizzle of real maple syrup.  Should yield about 6 small, but hearty pancakes.

A love affair with cauliflower

Yes.  Cauliflower.  Before now, I’ve never gotten into it… It lacks color, doesn’t have a lot of flavor on it’s own… fairly unpopular as far as vegetables go… But, my mind has CHANGED!

If you’ve been over to our house for a meal, then you’ve probably had some sort of soup.  If you’ve been to our house quite a few times, then you’ve probably had my potato soup.  I can make a MEAN potato soup.  Rich and hearty.  Make you want to take a nap afterwards.  And, there for a few years (at least 10), I couldn’t get enough potato soup.  Well, since we’ve been having so much success with the South Beach Diet, we haven’t had any white potatoes and definitely no potato soup.  Sad.  I know.  But don’t worry, I don’t lay awake at night missing potato soup. 😉  Here is a secret recipe that will knock your socks off if you haven’t had potatoes in a while!  And, it may even knock your socks off anyway.  Simple, healthy and oh, so tasty: the magic cauliflower.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients:

T olive oil

medium onion, chopped

large head of cauliflower, florets and stems cut into small pieces

32 oz chicken broth

1/4 c. sour cream

1/4 t nutmeg

sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

chopped green onions

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large pot.  Add onions and fry 5 minutes.  Add cauliflower, cover and cook an additional 5 minutes.  Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Boil for 15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender.  Transfer to a blender and puree in batches.  Return to pot and add sour cream and nutmeg.  Whisk or stir to combine thoroughly.  Serve hot with sprinkles of cheddar cheese and green onions.

Yum-oh!  It is fire-y delicious without all the starch and heaviness of a potato soup.

 

For South Beach Dieters: This is a phase 1 recipe if you use reduced-sodium chicken broth and low-fat cheese and sour cream.

Chocolate Banana Bread

Yummo!  This is banana bread at it’s yummiest!  The bread isn’t too sweet and is just right as an evening treat with a cup of coffee.  Though, I’ve modified it a little, I got the recipe from here: http://www.joyofbaking.com/breakfast/ChocolateBananaBread.html#ixzz0W1XvtpEh Her recipe is slightly different.  She adds a 1/2 c of chocolate chips.  I thought that that might be overkill…  😉  I also tried putting the pecans as a crust over the top with the turbinado sugar.  It made a beautiful crust, though it browned a little too much.  Hope you try it!  By the way, what do you think about a chocolate pumpkin bread?  Exchange banana for pumpkin?  I may try it.

Chocolate Banana Bread Recipe:

Ingredients

1/2 c toasted walnuts or pecans coarsely chopped (optional)

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour (I mixed with half whole-wheat)

1/4 c Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 c granulated white sugar

1 t baking powder

1/4 t baking soda

1/4 t salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 c unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 ripe bananas (approximately 1 pound or 454 grams), mashed well (about 1-1/2 c)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place oven rack to middle position. Butter and flour (or spray with a non stick vegetable/flour spray) the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf pan. Set aside.

Chicken Cider Stew

Currently in the crock pot is my favorite fall stew.  It’s a “stoup,” really, colored with the palate of autumn and the hearty aroma of chicken soup and savory cider.  It’s sweet, savory and hearty at it’s best.  I recommend it for a brisk, fall day.  It will make you smile.

Chicken Cider Stew

Ingredients:

2 c. apple cider

3 T catsup

2 slices bacon (or a few oz. of hearty sausage)

1 1/2 t salt

1/4 t dried savory, crushed

1/8 t pepper

2 lbs. chicken breasts, cut up

couple bouillon cubes (optional, to taste)

4 carrots, thinly sliced

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 onion, finely chopped

3 celery sticks, chopped

1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped

Directions:

Throw it all together in a large pot.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer about an hour or until vegetables are done.  Note: If you think more liquid is needed, you can either add more cider, water or chicken broth.  The vegetables and apples, especially, will give some extra liquid.  The apple will fall apart and the sweet potato is likely to, as well.  I’m trying it in a crock pot today.  Of course, it’s going to take much longer, but it looks pretty much the same.

Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Been wondering why there weren’t any more posts on the best chocolate chip cookie challenge?  I did make one more batch that turned out spectacularly… but, really I have stopped baking because I found out that I gained 8 pounds between my 20 and 24 week checkup.  It was a major wake-up call.  Hence, the daily walking and watching my carb/sugar consumption…  I’ve been doing really well since, definitely curbing the extra weight gain.  I  decided to try out a healthier recipe.  I came upon a jewel!

I wouldn’t actually call this a “chocolate chip cookie.” It’s an oatmeal cookie with chocolate chips…  After trying it a few nights ago, I want to turn it into a breakfast cookie recipe.  Add some dry fruit, less (if any) chocolate chips.  My main victories with this recipe are how easy and quick it was to throw together, how yummy it is without tasting either too sweet or too “healthy,” a very nice crispy/soft ratio, and Sophia LOVED it!  So, my next baking adventure is turning the following recipe into a breakfast cookie.

BEST EVER OATMEAL COOKIES

(http://www.recipezaar.com/best-ever-oatmeal-cookies-365661)

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter (I used more like a 1/3 cup of the extra crunchy variety.)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used brown sugar, but planning to use 1/2 cup honey instead.)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons water  (I omitted this.)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Dry Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2-2 1/2 cups oats
  • handful chocolate chips (Planning to add handfuls of cranberries and nuts.)

Directions

  1. Cream together WET ingredients.
  2. Add DRY ingredients and combine.
  3. Drop by tbsp onto baking sheet (Planning to form a thinner rectangular shaped cookie.)
  4. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.
These cookies puffed up a LOT.  They didn’t spread at all.  So, I’m hoping they’ll make a great oatmeal breakfast bar.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Attempt 2

For attempt #2, I used a really yummy recipe.  I’m going to post it here because it’s really worth trying.  This recipe is borrowed from a fellow wordpress blog, The “Christopher Kimball Blog from America’s Test Kitchen.” I’ll leave the recipe at the bottom for those of you that want to peruse it.

The difference on this recipe compared to the last is “browning” the butter, dark brown sugar, and a meticulous mixing method; i.e. stir, pause, stir, pause, etc.

So, you actually brown the butter in a pan.  You don’t just melt the butter, you brown it for a few minutes so that the deeper butter flavors come out.  This was actually an incredibly sensual process.  Sure, I’ve melted butter and it smells amazing, but not like this!  Stirring constantly you first melt butter, then let it boil and literally turn brown.  While it’s turning brown, a sweet caramel-like aroma comes out.  After that, you remove from heat and add more butter.  This causes the whole thing to boil up like crazy creating the most intense smell of buttery, caramel-ly goodness that you may pass out!  After you add the rest of the ingredients as he suggests, the batter ends up shiny and fully incorporated.  It’s a dark, shiny ball–beautiful really.

You’ll find that even in the uncooked batter, the tastes are much more complex and deep than a regular chocolate chip cookie recipe.  My husband loved the richness, but I might prefer to try a lighter brown sugar next time.  These were quite rich.  These would make a perfect afternoon cookie with a cup of coffee.  The texture came out perfect–crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside with an extraordinary taste!  Here is my only little problem: By day 3, they were no longer WONDERFUL.  They dried out and became chewy and crumbly instead of crunchy.  Storage problem?

As with Chocolate Chip Cookie Attempt 1, I refrigerated the dough before baking it.  I found that the longer batch (about 27 hours) came out the best.  I also let the dough rest on the counter for about an hour so that scooping them out would be easier.  My next attempt will include individually freezing balls of dough.

Enjoy the pictures.  Hope you try this recipe!  You WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED!

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

Makes 16 cookies.
Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter; the dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is browned. Use fresh, moist brown sugar instead of hardened brown sugar, which will make the cookies dry. This recipe works with light brown sugar, but the cookies will be less full-flavored. For our winning brand of chocolate chips, see related tasting.
INGREDIENTS
1 3/4
cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2
teaspoon baking soda
14
tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2
cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4
cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces) (see note)
1
teaspoon table salt
2
teaspoons vanilla extract
1
large egg
1
large egg yolk
1 1/4
cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (see note)
3/4
cup chopped pecan or walnuts, toasted (optional)
INSTRUCTIONS
. 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
. 2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
. 3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
. 4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)
. 5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Makes 16 cookies.

Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter; the dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is browned. Use fresh, moist brown sugar instead of hardened brown sugar, which will make the cookies dry. This recipe works with light brown sugar, but the cookies will be less full-flavored. For our winning brand of chocolate chips, see related tasting.

INGREDIENTS

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)

1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)

3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces)

1 teaspoon table salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks

3/4 cup chopped pecan or walnuts, toasted (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

. 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

. 2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

. 3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

. 4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)

. 5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.