Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tips and Gadgets: Pink Panther's Smoothie

For a long time I tried to convince my boys to change their taste for "only a bowl of cereal" for breakfast to something fresher, seasonal and, obviously,  healthier.

About a month ago—after buying a Smart Stick hand blender, by Cuisinart (easy to use and wash), I started myself to drink smoothies first thing in the morning. Mine are made of almond milk, half a tablespoon of flax seed meal, and tons of antioxidants from fresh seasonal berries.

When they saw me making and drinking it, they were puzzled. And finally, when they asked me why I was not having my coffee with toast, I answered: "Oh, because I want to be just like the Pink Panther's mother, so I drink this pink smoothie."

That story seemed to be good enough. We watch, sometimes, the newest version of the classic cartoon, where the pink panther is looking not so thin, never smokes, and takes care of the garden and the planet. Besides running from the inspector, of course.

And since then, they are having fruit loaded milk every morning and are very happy indeed. Maybe it's because they just would like to be like... tada tada... tada....the Pink Panther !

The Pink Panther Mom's Smoothie

1 cup 2% very cold milk or unsweetened vanilla almond milk
3 large ripe fresh strawberries
15 small blueberries
3 slices of banana or 2 tablespoons applesauce
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 tablespoon flax seed meal (optional)

Add milk, fruit, and flax seed meal at the end. Blend for about 30 seconds. Pour in glass and enjoy very cold!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tips & Gadgets: Refresh Stale Ice Cream Cones


Happy summer solstice! We are, appropriately, baking in heat as we welcome summer today. After a long, cold spring, the late-breaking warmth took us a little by surprise. I opened our box of ice cream cones and found only stale, slightly limp cones. Sad. Luckily, it's easy to crisp up a stale cone!

Here's what to do: Stand up your cones in the microwave and heat for 30 seconds on high. Let cool a few minutes, and they'll be nice and crisp again. They won't taste quite as good they did fresh, but your kids probably won't mind. Especially if you fill them with some of this or scoops of this. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Floating on a Vanilla and Blueberry Sky

I grew up believing that making egg desserts was the ultimate kitchen challenge. My mom was always warning me about things going wrong. There was the deal with whisking the whites. Maybe funny stuff would happen to the yolks, and anything, really, could perturb the delicate chemistry that involves transforming eggs into delicious desserts.

Traditionally, in Brazil, many old-fashioned desserts are all egg- and sugar-based, inherited from the Portuguese school. They are all very lovable, and bring eggs to an elevated dimension. But there's always an exhaustive preparation process and somehow they are far too much sugary for my taste. Not to talk about the cholesterol dilemma.

None of that stopped me from playing with an egg dessert with my 4-year-old.  We were surrounded by clouds—in the sky, on my Mac screen, in our blog. So the project was named "Clouds Everywhere"—which included a book, some craft,s and a scientific experiment, during his (ouch!) first week off school. Off we went to find an idea for a dessert that would totally look like clouds. We loved Darienne's meringue clouds, but all of a sudden I recalled something my grandma used to make: in Portuguese we call it ovos nevados (something like "snowed eggs"). In French, they might be floating island (île flottante). For our project, we called it Floating Clouds.

The book we used for our reading was Nuvem Feliz (Happy Cloud, not translated yet to English, Editora 34, by Alice Ruiz and illustrated by Edith Derdyek). I also found that Eric Carle's Little Cloud would be beautiful, but didn't have time to order it or get it from the library. The scientific experiment was to make a cloud inside a bottle. And, of course, we did lots of cloud-gazing.

Floating Islands in Vanilla and Blueberry Sunset Custard

This recipe is lightly adapted from the book Europe's Master Chefs (Könemann, 2004). Many famous chefs love to talk about how they make this dessert, but I chose the classic method and ruled out thickeners (cornstarch) or egg stabilizers (tartar). Making it my way, I had a few challenges. But it's mainly easy. Easier that I thought.

2 cups milk
1 halved vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup of fresh blueberries simmered in 1/2 cup apple or orange juice (coulis)

Combine milk, halved vanilla pod, and 3 tablespoons of the sugar in a large pot. Bring it to a boil and lower the heat so the milk stays hot, but it don't let it boil again. Remove vanilla bean, scraping the pod.

In a mixing bowl, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add the rest of the sugar and whisk until it has stiff peaks. With the help on a ice cream spoon, scoop the whites into "clouds" and delicately cook them in the hot milk, 3 minutes each side. They will inflate and, when cooked, will deflate a little bit. Set them aside.

After all the egg-white clouds or islands are cooked, stir egg yolks into the hot milk and keep stirring to combine. Pour the yellow cream through a sieve, to remove any bits of yolk, and transfer it to a serving dish. When cold, serve clouds individually on the fresh blueberry coulis and vanilla custard, so that kids can paint their own sky.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ben & Jerry's Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

Few weeks ago I sent an email to Ben & Jerry's PR asking for permission to publish this amazing recipe. We got it this week, and I thought that would be a lovely way to celebrate the arrival of warm weather—with a homemade ice cream!

Don't get intimidated by the presence of raw eggs. We tested the recipe many times, and the prep story was included in our celebration of Children's Book Week. The recipe is from the awesome Ben & Jerry's Book of Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts.

If you want to have a good story book for reading time with the kids while waiting for the ice cream to be ready, here's our recommendation: The Ice Cream King, by Steve Metzger. The book, illustrated by Julie Downing, was our choice to celebrate ice cream in our Children's Book Week.

Ben & Jerry's French Vanilla Ice Cream

These are the original ingredients plus some comments I added after making it more than five times with the Cooking Club at my first-grader's school. We also tested it at home with our kids, and they all had fun preparing it—and, of course, eating it.

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups cream
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy—do it manually, like in the old times, for 1 to 2 minutes. The fluffier it gets, the better the final result. Kids might give a helping hand using the whisk. They love to use the noisy ball whisk, or a traditional one. During the classes at school, we pretended each kid was a machine, so they had to keep working continuously.

Whisk in the sugar, a little at time, and continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in cream, milk, and vanilla and whisk to blend.

Transfer to a ice cream to a pre-frozen drum and churn for about 20 minutes. We used different models of Cuisinart machines, and they all did a good job.

Serve right away. If you want a more solid texture, transfer ice cream to the freezer for the time recommended by your ice cream maker.

Serve it plain, with chocolate fudge, or with fruit salad and granola. It is absolutely rich—and delicious. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tips & Gadgets: Saving Leftover Yolks and Whites

We've featured a few recipes lately that call for using only part of an egg—five yolks to make zabaglione, for example, and three whites for meringue clouds. Which leads to a whole lot of wasted food if you don't figure out what to do with those unused whites and yolks.

You can store leftovers in the fridge for a few days, but what if you don't want to quickly follow up meringue with custard or ice cream? The answer: Freeze them.

Egg whites, which last up to 4 days in the refrigerator,  are easy to freeze: Spoon them into an ice cube tray, one egg white per cube. Freeze them, pop them out, and store them in a freezer-safe container. Thawed egg whites can be used in any recipe—if you use them for meringues, you might need to add a bit more cream of tartar to get them to whip up well.

Yolks last only 2 days in the fridge. They're a little fussier to freeze, too—they get thick and gelatinous if packed straight into the freezer. Stir in a pinch of salt or a small spoonful of sugar, however, and they're good to go. Be sure to mark on the freezer container whether they were treated with salt or sugar, so you'll know how to use them! Thawed yolks don't work well in baked goods, but they're fine for almost anything else: Save them for puddings, custards, ice cream, or pasta, or add them to scrambled eggs, French toast, omelets and fritattas.

To use the frozen yolks or whites, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. When using yolks, be sure to adjust your recipe to account for the salt or sugar already mixed in with the yolks.

Here are a few recipes using either egg yolks or whites:


Egg whites:
Chicken Parmesan
Sweet Potato Nuggets
Monster Treats
The Best Spiced Nuts
Leprechaun Cookies
Rose Meringue Clouds
Marshmallow Cake Towers

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rose Meringue Clouds


Where I live, we're lucky to enjoy local strawberries year-round, but they're never as delicious as they are right now. The all-too-brief blueberry season is upon us, and the raspberries are heavenly.

We're gobbling up berries as-is, adding them to cereal, spooning them over French toast, scooping them atop ice cream and yogurt, canning them for a rainy day ... we can't get enough.

The light meringues, with a delicate hint of rose, are a perfect pairing for ripe berries. To take it up another notch, stir some chopped mint into the berries. I loved a bit of chocolate mint, but somehow the green flecks screamed "healthy greens!" to the son who eats berries like they're candy and munches mint leaves straight off the plant — he refused to even try it.

Rose Meringue Clouds

Instead of rosewater, you can use a smaller amount of vanilla or almond extract, or substitute orange blossom water. These are fun at a picnic — cushion meringues well with waxed paper and pack the berries separately. This makes 16 to 24 meringues, depending on how large you make them.

3 egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon, divided
1 tablespoon rosewater
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 250 F. In a very clean mixer bowl fitted with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy. Add 3/4 cup sugar, rosewater, and cream of tartar and continue beating until meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks. To check that it's done, rub a pinch of meringue between two fingers -- if it feels grainy, keep beating.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Put a large tip on a pastry bag and fill it with meringue. Pipe meringue into a spiral to form a circle 2 to 3 inches across; continue piping along the outer edge to build a shallow wall and form a bowl shape. (Alternatively, you can simply drop dollops of meringue onto the prepared sheet and use the back of a spoon to gently make an indentation in the centers.)

Bake for an hour and a half to two hours, rotating the baking sheet every 30 minutes to ensure even baking. Meringues are done when they are crisp to the touch. If they start to brown, turn the oven temperature down by 25 degrees. Cool completely on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Meanwhile, combine assorted berries (leave small berries whole, but chop up strawberries) with 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl. Stir well and let sit for at least an hour so berries macerate and release some juice.

To serve, spoon berries into cooled meringues.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Strawberry Season Special: Strawberries and Double Cream Muffins

Since our last picnic with the kids I made this recipe about two times—they go fast from the table. It was a great surprise, once I found out that it's possible to substitute butter and oil for cream. While these muffins are not on the low-fat side, they taste like heaven.

This is the last strawberry celebration recipe of our seasonal series. If you're still hungry for more, there's Darienne's wonderful cream cheese with strawberries, and one healthy alternative to frosting, in this cupcake recipe. 

Strawberries and Cream Muffins

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup 2% milk (and about 1/4 more, if mix gets too dry)
1 egg
1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup raw cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped organic ripe strawberries

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix flour, baking powder, and sugar in a bowl. Add chopped strawberries and stir to coat them with the dry ingredients. In another bowl, mix cream, egg, and 1/2 cup of  milk. Pour wet mix over dry mix, and mix with a wooden spoon. If the batter is still looking too dry, add about 1/4 cup more of milk.

Distribute batter among 12 muffin cups. Bake at 375 F for 25 minutes, or until muffins are golden on the top. Enjoy with a cup of milk and maybe... one more strawberry.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Strawberry Season Special: Spinach with Balsamic Dressing

This simple yet charming salad combination was made for a Mother's Day brunch many years ago. At that time I ended up not posting the recipe because I didn't like the photo. But this week, inspired by the beautiful red strawberries, I found many fun ways to arrange the spinach leaves and strawberries, and take pictures of them. Its freshness is amazing, and kids (sometimes) love it—as the dressing has some hidden sweetness blended with the tangy combination of balsamic vinegar and strawberries.

Baby Spinach Salad with Black and Red Dressing

You can choose different ingredients for the main salad. I've combined it with rocket and once used basil instead of spring onions.

4 cups fresh baby spinach
1 sliced medium strawberry for each plate

1 ripe strawberry, diced in tiny pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup apple juice or lemonade
Kosher salt to taste

Mix all ingredients for the dressing at least one hour before serving. Organize each plate with a bed of spinach and slices of strawberry. Serve with the dressing on the side or pour over the salad, leaving the guest to redesign the plate. Enjoy!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Strawberry Season Special: Little Red Riding Hood Streusel


This recipe was created by Darienne for our Children's Book Week.
Inspired on the story, she tells "I  baked the strawberries right into the cake, adding a splash of balsamic vinegar to deepen the flavor and hint at the darkness lurking in the woods."
How inspiring!

Little Red Riding Hood’s Strawberry Streusel Cakes

You can adapt this recipe for muffins or a larger cake, if you're careful to adjust the baking time.

Strawberry filling
1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch
squeeze of lemon juice

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt

Streusel topping
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil four mini loaf pans.

Combine strawberry filling ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and cook, continuing to stir, for a few minutes until thickened. Mash strawberries with a fork to desired consistency and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Adds eggs and blend well, then add vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir well to combine. Add a third of the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, combine, then mix in half the yogurt. Then mix in another third of the flour, the other half of the yogurt, and finally the rest of the flour mixture, stirring in each addition well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt with a fork. Stir in melted butter until mixture is chunky and crumbly.

Divide cake batter among four loaf pans. Spoon strawberry filling on top. With a butter knife, gently swirl the filling into the top of the batter to marble it a bit. Spread the crumbly streusel topping over each loaf. Garnish the tops, if you wish, with a strawberry slice or two.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cake comes out clean.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Strawberry Season Special: Herbal Galette

100906_CPE_strawberry galette

Here's our second strawberry celebration.
I still remember its taste and texture: The marriage of fruit and herbs is just perfect in this beautiful dessert or tea treat created by Darienne. As she described, this is "It is a celebration of summer, a last explosion of bright berry flavor tucked into a here-comes-fall pastry crust".
Believe-me, it's so easy to make and guests of all ages will be delighted by its charm.

Herbal Strawberry Galette

A simple sugar paste with lemon verbena leaves added a lovely touch to this simple dessert. You can use the same technique with any herbs you like. Like yesterday's fig galette, this makes a small pie to feed six comfortably. Double the recipe if you wish.

1/2 single pie crust (use a refrigerated crust, your favorite recipe, or this pâte brisée recipe)
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 tablespoons herbal sugar paste
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine strawberries and sugar paste in a large bowl, and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough into a roughly 8" round or square and set on the parchment paper. Lay out strawberry slices in the center of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch border. (With a round, you can invert a bowl in the center and press lightly to mark where the fruit will go. With a square, try marking the corners with pieces of fruit.) Carefully fold up the edges, pleating where necessary.

Lightly brush the edges of the dough with water and sprinkle with sugar (or rub with additional sugar paste). Bake for 20 to 28 minutes, until dough is golden brown and crispy.

Herbal Sugar Paste

I started off with lemon verbena sugar paste from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm Cookbook. The technique would work well with other herbs such as mint, lemon balm, and basil.

1 part lightly packed leaves
2 parts sugar

Process sugar and leaves in a food processor until they form a paste. Store any leftovers in the freezer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Strawberry Season Special - Cheers Strawberries Cocktail

Who can resist to the redness and sweetness of a ripe strawberry? My family and I can't.

Last weekend we were in the windy fields of one organic farm close to Santa Cruz, California, buying some of the Chandler variety of organic strawberries. The music playing in my mind was "Strawberry Fields Forever." All of a sudden I traveled back in time: I had learned, with a bit of disappointment, that the Beatles' song was not really a psychedelic inspiration on a strawberry field—but was mentioning a children's home close to Lennon's place. That revelation happened while I was working with my friend, photographer Tina, on a feature for a magazine in Liverpool in the mid-'90s.

When I realized that our weekend program, to pick organic strawberries, was not really possible, I also got disappointed. On top of that, my camera had just run out of batteries! The strawberries were not ready yet—as many were still in the need of more sun to mature, and spring had unusual cold weather, compromising some of the crop. The boys were able to understand that the plants needed more time, and off we went to buy strawberries already picked from other fields of the farm—delicious ones—and a jar of their extraordinary jam.

This short series of strawberry based recipes is going to be online from today to Sunday. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do! Cheers!

Kids are always asking me to have some more exciting drinks, once they set up their own paperboard clubhouse in the backyard!
One of the good reasons to love it, it's because you can use those not-so-fresh strawberries that were left behind. This is a reinterpretation of a recipe created two years ago for Mother's Day.

Strawberry Cocktail

With some not-so-fresh strawberries, I prepared a syrup-like compote, simmering the fruits with orange juice. I used the mix as a base for the cocktail. 

2 tablespoons strawberry compote (recipe below)
1/2 cup sparkling mineral water with lime
1/4 cup apple juice (optional)
4 leaves fresh mint, chopped
Ice (optional)

Combine all ingredients, stir slowly, and add fresh chopped mint on the top.

Strawberry Compote

2  cups whole strawberries
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
5 or 6 juniper berries, dried

Simmer all for about 30 minutes or until the fruits are smooth. Remove juniper berries. Refrigerate and reserve for the drink.


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