Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vanilla Milk Syrup


My younger son has become a huge fan of a certain organic, sugary vanilla-flavored milk that comes only in single-serving boxes. I don't like the price or the excessive packaging, but I also don't like endlessly cajoling the boy to eat something -- anything! -- with calcium. As vanilla milk boxes became a once- or twice-a-week treat, I experimented with homemade versions that would make us both happy.

First I tried adding a few drops of vanilla extract to his milk. Easy and done! Except... My extract is just vanilla beans steeped in rum and vodka. Great in cakes, not in my kid's glass of milk. Imitation vanilla is a non-starter for me. There's sugar-free Torani syrup, if you don't mind Splenda.

So I tried steeping a vanilla bean in simple syrup, then added a large spoonful to my son's milk. He drained his cup, happily.

It still isn't guilt-free: An 8-ounce glass of low-fat or skim milk with two teaspoons of this vanilla syrup recipe contains about 25 grams of sugar, just a bit less than the 29 grams in the boxed version. So it's still in the "treat" category at my home, and you can certainly use a smaller amount of syrup to suit you -- or your child's -- taste.

I buy vanilla beans in bulk for a song, so my homemade organic vanilla milk in a reusable cup costs less than half what I pay for the version in a throwaway box.

Vanilla Milk Syrup

This makes 12 two-teaspoon servings. Save the vanilla bean and steep it with coffee grounds for cold-brewed coffee, or dry it and tuck it in a container of sugar. You can also add the syrup to cocoa, iced or hot coffee, lemonade, or adult beverages.

1 cup water, boiling
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half

Put sugar in a bowl. Pour in boiling water and stir to thoroughly dissolve sugar. Add vanilla bean, cover, and steep for 8 hours.

Put a paper coffee filter in a fine-meshed strainer and set over a bowl. Pour the steeped syrup through the filter, straining out the vanilla. (If your child doesn't mind vanilla bean flecks, you can skip this step.) Store in the refrigerator for a week or two, or freeze portions in an ice cube tray for longer storage.

To serve, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of syrup to 8 ounces milk, warm or cold. Stir and enjoy!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

DIY Natural Colors for Easter Eggs

_ "This is so much fun, Mom... all those colors coming from those vegetables!? ", asked my 6 years old boy.
_ "Can I color all the eggs in the house?", asked the 4 years old.

Kids had a blast preparing our "color lab", and were in awe about the amount of colors we can make from vegetables and spices.

Just because I grew up as a believer that adding artificial colors on food was not a sign of elegance, I am always looking for alternatives on food coloring. Even for boiled eggs.
For cakes I am currently using the India Tree trio of natural dyes. They have a amazing result, specially when mixed with marshmallow fondant. But I must admit that we still eat those delicious chocolate mini-eggs, with all the letters and numbers that make the codes for artificial colors.

But as real eggs are not a big deal and we can improvise a lot. If the egg preserves its shell without any crack as the colors don't penetrate the egg itself, and the variety of colors coming from flavors is wider.
I was mainly inspired to make those with the help of this awesome post, by The Boulder Locavore. Then As we started experimenting, lots of teas and spices came out of the cupboard and were tried. Here are our favorites:

Naturally Colored Boiled Eggs

Because I plan on doing a big egg salad with those eggs I really chose my favorite brand, from Trader Joes, eggs that are made by  free-range chickens.

Water enough to cover them
2 tablespoons Paprika
2 cups spinach
1 tablespoon sage
1/4 red cabbage
2 medium  beets

Use your favorite recipe for boiling the eggs. I love Julia Child's one. It always works and I never have that grayish rind on the yolks. Let the eggs cool. Here's a guideline of our favorite dyes:

Orange _ Boil paprika in 2 cups of water, when cold enough to the touch add 2 tablespoons white vinegar. To achieve a deep color you can soak the egg overnight. We found that 20 minutes is a good timing for a smooth orange.

Blue _ Ours were not that deep blue. Cooked red cabbage for 40 minutes in two cups of water. It cooled down and I added 2 spoons of vinegar, which changed the color of water from blue to purple. Yet, the egg still came in a very soft shade of blue, soaked overnight, in the fridge.

Pink _ Beetroot works on the egg faster than cabbage. It may take from 1 hour to overnight to achieve the desired shade. Beets were simmered for about 30 minutes. The same was followed: one tablespoon of vinegar for each cup of the colored water.

Yellow - A very light shade of yellow can be achieved by dipping the egg in infused in 1 tablespoon dry sage. I didn't use the vinegar for this one and the color stayed. The other shade came from infused dill. I will test with saffron soon.

Purple/Lilac - The egg was left in grape juice for 2 hours. I will test it again soon. One of the boys could not wait and immersed the egg on the paprika color.

We are going to play more this weekend! Hopefully we will come up with more colors and the Easter bunnies are not going to be disappointed! Happy Easter.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bagels with Strawberry Cream Cheese


I tried making bagels once, a few years back, and ended up with tough, lumpy ropes of dough that went straight into the trash. I kept bookmarking bagel recipes that looked promising, and most were based on Bernard Clayton's popular recipe. Recently, with the enthusiastic support of my bagel-loving 4-year-old, I mustered up the courage to try again. Everyone's right: This is a fantastic bagel!

With a little experimentation, I settled on this version incorporating a bit of white whole wheat flour and using brown rice syrup in the boiling water bath. It takes some time -- just over 2 hours, start to finish, including an hour-long rise -- but it's far easier, and tastier, than I had expected.

To go with it, I literally whipped up some fresh strawberry cream cheese and set it out with butter, jam, and 20 bagels still warm from the oven. The bagels swiftly disappeared, so I guess I'll have to make more. Soon.



This is based on a recipe from Bernard Clayton. Easily doubled, this makes 8 normal-size bagels or 10 smallish ones.

1 cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast (2 envelopes)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups hot water (120 to 130 degrees)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown rice syrup (or sugar)
1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water
optional toppings: kosher salt, cinnamon sugar, sesame seeds, poppy seeds

Combine the yeast and hot water in a small bowl, stir, and let sit for a few moments until mixture is foamy.

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Pour in yeast mixture and blend well by hand or in a stand mixer. Set dough on a lightly floured surface and knead about 7-10 minutes, until dough is firm and satiny. Put dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for an hour, until doubled in size.

Once dough has risen, preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 if using a convection oven). Add rice syrup to a large pot of water and bring it to a boil.

2011_CPE_bagels3Punch down dough with your fingers and divide into 8 to 10 equal portions. Form each portion into a ball by folding it over and pressing the edges together, then gently rolling it on the table with the palm of your hand. Let rest a few minutes.

Using your hand, slightly flatten each ball, poke a hole in the center with your finger, and gently shape the bagel. Loosely cover bagels with a kitchen towel and let them rise for 10 minutes.

Lower the heat on the stove so the water-syrup mixture settles to a simmer. Working with two to three bagels at a time, gently lower bagels into the simmering water with a slotted spoon. Simmer for 45 to 60 seconds, then flip over and simmer another 15 to 30 seconds. Remove each batch of bagels from the water and set them on a kitchen towel. Pat them dry with another towel.

Combine egg white and water in a small bowl, and brush mixture over each bagel. If you want to add toppings, sprinkle them on now.

Line a baking sheet with a silpat, or lightly grease the pan and sprinkle with cornmeal. Put bagels on prepared pan and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Strawberry Cream Cheese

This makes a delicious, natural fruit dip or bagel spread.

1 cup strawberries, washed, hulled, and roughly chopped
8 ounces Neufch√Ętel or cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons sugar

Puree strawberries. Stir or blend into cream cheese along with sugar.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Three Ingredients Spring Nests

Spring Break just started. So, instead of trying to find something extraordinary to fill our morning, we just headed to the kitchen and thought about making something together. While I was reading many Easter recipes to find something really inspiring,  my oldest son was working on his book of origami.  When I invited him to make part on my project of baking little nests, he got so enthusiastic that he offered to make some origami boxes for the nests. While I was testing the right proportion and the right way of baking it, he was busy with his little hands, folding the adorable boxes.
The kitchen and the home soon were filled with the nice smell of toasted coconut. And we were all happy.
Besides the Cadbury Mini-Eggs - a favorite for all family - , We also made some caramel fudge egg shapes made from the leftover condensed milk. We hope you also enjoy making this nice treat, it can be a nice break from the Break !

Toasted Coconut Nests
Next time I will bake them straight in the cupcakes pan without the paper cups. It was a bit difficult to peel off the paper... Or maybe over a flat baking sheet with parchment paper. 

1/3 cup macaroon fine unsweetened grated coconut
1/3 cup sweet coconut, grated
1/3 cup condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease each cup of a 12 regular muffin pan with generous amount of vegetable spread or butter. Dust each cup with flour and shredded coconut. Mix all ingredients until all is incorporated. Fill each cup with the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of the mix, shaping it with edges. Bake for 10 minutes. Take it out from the oven and add another layer of the sweet coconut. Return pan to the oven for at least 5 to 10 more minutes to toast the superior part of the nests.

For the Homemade Caramel Eggs

1 can sweetened condensed milk (minus what was used for the nests)
1 tablespoon vegetable spread or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt spread or butter in a medium saucer. Still on high heat, add condensed milk. When it starts bubbling reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly.  When the dough starts to stick out from the bottom of the pan it's about to be ready. Transfer content while still hot to a plate greased with butter and let it cool down. Shape the mix like small eggs and roll in fine white sugar.


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