Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Frozen whipped cream for cocoa


One of my boys' favorite after-school treats is a mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. My older son asks every single time for me to make a snowman face atop the whipped cream — with a candy corn nose and mini chocolate chips for the eyes and mouth.

But in the just-got-home bustle of artwork and notes from school and homework, gathering candy to adorn his cocoa just so is pushing dangerously into super-mom territory. I'm not that awesome, and we don't keep a stash of candy corn and mini chocolate chips around the house.

I do like to make him happy, however. And I appreciate how that smiling snowman in his cup warms his heart. So I whipped up some snowmen and stuck them in deep freeze, ready to be called into action.  Now I have a small stash of frozen snowmen and other special toppings, sprinkled with mint candies and colored sugar, ready to add a little smile to my boys' hot chocolate. Bonus:


Frozen whipped cream decorations

If you're more artful than I am, you can make whipped cream hearts and stars, whatever suits your fancy. I don't think this works with whipped cream from a can, but I haven't tried it. Whipping it up fresh is quick and easy, and so worth the minimal effort!

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1-2 tablespoons sugar
assorted toppings: chopped candies, chocolate chips, sprinkles, colored sugar, crushed candy canes


Chill a metal mixing bowl and a whisk in the freezer for 15 minutes. Pour cream into the bowl and add sugar. Whisk until the cream forms stiff peaks. You use a stand mixer as well — just chill the whisk attachment and beat on high speed.

 Line a tray or plate with waxed paper. Fill a piping bag with whipped cream and squeeze out dollops of whipped cream, or just plop the whipped cream down with a spoon. Tip: If you're making these for cocoa mugs, you might want to trace the top of the mug on the reverse side of the waxed paper to make sure you don't make these too big.


Now add candy decorations. Some, like colored sugar, may melt or sink into the whipped cream so work quickly! Slide tray into freezer and freeze until firm. (I left mine for an hour.)

Gently peel frozen dollops off tray and pack in an airtight container, lining layers with waxed paper, and freeze for up to two months.

To use, gently place a decorated dollop on top of hot chocolate and enjoy!


Monday, January 21, 2013

DIY Granola Mix

It's delicious, simple and so easy to make. I would dare say that the only not-so-fun part of the process was shopping for all the ingredients. If you have kids and have to go to with them to a grocery store with a list, you might understand the challenge...

The result, though, is really great and you won't need to read any long food label informing about the disappointing amounts of sugar, fat, and other lab-generated substances needed to preserve freshness and moistness.

For the preparation of our first granola batch I counted on the help of one of my boys to mix the nuts and drizzle the agave nectar concoction over it. After that the whole family waited patiently for toasting and cooling it down. It was one of the best Sunday breakfasts ever.

Now, when we start doing our Little Monsters Granola Bars, we already know how to start. Or maybe we will use it sprinkled over the delicious homemade yogurt by Darienne. And believe me: It may sound like a super mom's thing, but making the simple changes for feeding the whole family might take just one hour of your day, for at least a whole week of no-brainer, highly nutritious breakfasts.

Our Granola Mix
You pick the ingredients — I prefer using organic ones. I recommend working always with old-fashioned oats as a base, and with just one type of dry fruit. 

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/3 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup flax seed
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons light agave syrup
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup Thompson raisins

Preheat oven to 325 F. Mix all the dry ingredients except the raisins in a big bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the liquid ingredients. Spread nuts and grains over a cookie sheet or baking tray and drizzle the agave-honey mix over it, randomly.

Bake for about 10 minutes on a 325 F, and with the help of a spatula, mix the grains again and flatten to the baking tray. Return to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Bring the raisins in, and let it cool down. Drizzle a bit more of honey if you think it need a bit of more sweetness. Enjoy! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pizzwich and the Simple Changes

The idea of change is always stimulating for me, but sometimes it is just overwhelming when applied to real life. When New Year's decisions come to my mind, they might sound like just what we need. But at the end of the first month of the year they might be too drastic, heavy and just ... boring. This is always what I think about food-diet-healthier-related New Year's decisions: Oh yes, they may sound wonderful. Really?

Somehow the documentary Hungry for Change got my attention last Monday, while zapping to find something to relax me. And that's how it turned my next day upside down: I went to sleep. Far from being relaxed.

Enticed by the renewed argument about sugar-addictive foods — along with already adopted Food Rules ideas, and how we are hungry while being poorly and overly fed with over-processed foods — I shared my anxiety with my 8- and 6-year-old boys in the morning. I read the labels of their cereal at 7 a.m., and ignored the rule to think-before-you-say-something to the kids. I just plainly said:
_ That's it: We are all eating the wrong way. This is all empty food. Lots of refined sugar, syrup, etc. etc.

They were puzzled. I told them that I'd watched a documentary the night before. They wanted to watch it. I was a bit doubtful. I would not like to convert them to green juice gurus. Instead I just told them:

_ Let's just eat things that come from the garden, from nature, not from the factory.

And they listened.

But changes, to be profound, have to be made slowly and consistently. After three days running happily on fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, vegetable soups, grass-fed meat, and wild-caught fish, they were suddenly craving a classic pizza slice from one of their favorite pizza restaurants, made with very white flour and sugary tomato sauce.

I remembered someone in the movie suggesting substitute ingredients for a healthier version of it.  And that's how the boys happily prepared their own Pizz-wiches.


The success of the recipe depends on the quality of the ingredients. Look for preservative-free ingredients and no unnecessary sugar in the tomato sauce and bread. 

4 slices highly nutritious whole-wheat bread slices with less than 1g sugar per serving
4 slices partly skim vegetarian mozzarella slices (5g fat, maximum)
4 tablespoons tomato sauce (homemade or prepared with less than 1g sugar per serving)
2 teaspoons organic oregano

Cover each slice of bread with one tablespoon of red sauce. Add the slice of cheese and sprinkle oregano on top. Broil on high for 3 minutes or until the cheese melts. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fruit-and-yogurt cups for quick, healthy breakfasts

130102_CPE_fruit yogurt_2

This first week back to school hit like a whirlwind!

After a deliciously long and lazy year-end break, it's back to routine this week. It always takes us a few days to regain our rhythm under the best of circumstances. Pile on an unusually busy few weeks ahead, toss in some curve balls, and I know I need to simplify where I can and focus on keeping our energy and spirits up.

To that end, I'm trying to keep our fridge stocked with homemade grab-and-go yogurt cups. The base is a simple fruit compote that simmers briefly while I do dishes or prep lunches. Once it's cool, I fill eight half-cup containers with fruit compote and yogurt.

I stash the cups in the fridge next to a jar of granola and a shaker filled with flaxseed meal for fresh, crunchy toppings. And that's breakfast for two for most of the school week, done in minutes. (I'd happily make enough for all four of us if the kids would eat it. They'll come around.)

This time of year, my favorite is warmly spiced Persimmon Compote, but follow the same template with fresh or frozen berries or stone fruits — this week's stash is made with frozen blueberries.

To make it, just combine chopped fruit or berries with a bit of water and a squeeze of honey in a saucepan. Bring just to gentle boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Combine a spoonful or two of cornstarch in a small bowl with water and stir it into the cooked fruit until it thickens, then finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Once it's cool, spoon it into individual containers and top with yogurt. I like creamy non-fat Greek yogurt, with its extra protein boost.

Too much work? Swap jam or just honey for the compote.

Feeling ambitious? Make your own yogurt.

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