Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday is the New Monday

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend, and unlike me, was not too peeved at all the places that were closed.  It's good that people are spending time with their families and everyone is on vacation mode, but sometimes you really need to get ahold of the doctor!   Ah well, I survived and so did everyone else, so here we are on Monday.  Well.  Tuesday.  Remember the post where I said even when Monday is an off day, Tuesday will just step up and take it's place?  That's totally today.  I'm so exhausted from overworking the holiday, plus not sleeping well, plus not eating well.  Ick.  Completely went weekend warrior and decided to rip out carpet and clean the house like it's never seen a mop.  Maybe I should have tried baby steps?  Time to get back on track imo.

So this week's challenge I was going to post the hint was an interesting thing I found online.  I made them last night, they turned out golden brown and beautiful, but maybe I did something wrong, because they tasted awful.  I made zucchini fritters.  I'm convinced they need to be baked like a cake at this point to maximize the flavor.   Like you would with corn bread.  Anyway, I do not feel like sharing this recipe, so we'll go on to something more creative.  Or less hassle.  One of the two.  With last week's yogurt success, I'm still over the moon about it and want to make more and more.  LOL.   Perhaps it wouldn't be such a great food blog if I post the same yogurt recipe every week though?  So here, I'm digging around in the piles of paperwork at my desk, thinking, "Ok, where did I leave that list of things I want to share on the blog?"  Then I realize I'm in dire need of an organization makeover.  There's only so much paper you can swim through in a day before realizing you're not crossing the English Channel any time soon.  =)

So, thank you for your inspiration, I cleaned out the pile of papers next to my desk and here's the list.  Amazing how many I've shared already and how many more there are to go.  I've been so obsessed with soups lately.  It seems so easy to make a soup, or eat a soup or just enjoy soup.  Easy on the stomach, great for what ails you and packed with nutrients and flavor.  If you make your own, get low sodium broth, or use a low sodium soup base like I do.   That's not to say I'll never use broth, but you can control the flavor and salt content a bit more with the soup base.

There's your hint for the day!  SOUP!  See you Friday!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Free Friday - YOGURT!!!

Can you believe it?  It's so incredible!  Ridiculously amazing and awesome!  It's FREE FRIDAY!! HAHA!  Not what you were expecting?  Ok, you're right, there's another reason to be so excited today - coconut yogurt!  I know, after 3 weeks of, "I'm getting it done, I swear!" here's our moment, finally.

I did adapt a recipe from another site, but then I've tried a few sites with no luck.  The yogurt was tasty, sweet, somewhat tart and way. too. thick.  Perhaps I interpreted the amounts incorrectly, or the bacteria worked better than last time, but it was so thick I could have cut it in shapes with a knife.

Now, I'm not going to write a long post about incubation techniques, or heating or coolers or insulation.  You can find that all over the net.  Instead, I'll give you a piece by piece of how the yogurt came together and some websites of where the information comes from.  I do use a yogurt maker (with little individual cups,) a thermometer, store bought starter, and canned milk (Goya).   One lady says, "it's not rocket science" but I think it is.  LOL.  It's very much a science and an art form all at once.  It can quickly get discouraging or frustrating but I assure you, tweaking little things you may have thought were insignificant, will make all the difference.

Also, I had high hopes I could make this completely vegan, but to no avail.  For now, I'm using gelatin, and for the average person, that's actually not bad.  Also, since I used coconut flour to help thicken it, it's a tad grainy.  If this bothers you, then I think it would work to omit it, but for now I like what it adds in flavor.  So, let's get started!  (Adapted from this website:  http://www.cookingtf.com/coconut-milk-yogurt-2/)

Sidenote:  You'll probably look at this recipe and think...."hey, this is not sugar free."  But here's the deal, the bacteria need food and sugar fills that purpose.  By the time the yogurt is done fermenting, most of the sugar if not all of it will be gone.  The sugar content will be negligible.  Much less than anything you would find in the store anyway.  I do not have exact numbers but from what I've read it's between 4 and 6 grams of sugar per cup.  Possibly.  Like I said, it's a science and an art form.


2 cans coconut milk
1.5 tBsp sugar
1 packet gelatin (or 1tsp)
1 tBsp SIFTED coconut flour (SO important to sift it!)
1 packet of yogurt starter (I get mine here http://www.culturesforhealth.com/vegan-dairy-free-yogurt-starter.html )

First, always start with sterilized equipment.  One germ and you lose your whole batch.  If you colonize bad bacteria, you will get sick, so the whole batch has to be thrown out if even one cup looks or smells bad.

Get a pot, bring to a boil, put all the utensils and cups you're going to use in there and boil for 10 min.  I boil my tongs too which I use to move the cups around.

Temperature is everything.  Pour the milk (all but 1/2 cup) and sugar into a pan and bring to 180 degrees F.  While that is heating, mix the gelatin and flour into a small cup with the 1/2 cup of milk.  Whisk it until smooth, then add it slowly to the pan, continuing to whisk in the pan to avoid clumps.  You do not want it going into a crazy boil, it will break the milk and be very watery.  Bring the mixture to 180 and take it off the heat.

At this point, take a break!  You can read a book, play Diablo III, or go get a suntan.  Basically, let the milk mixture cool to 110 degrees F.  If it's warmer than that, your bacteria will die so just leave it be for a while.  If you forget and come back too much later (like I did) and find your mixture at 80, you can put the stove back on very low and start to help it creep back up to 110.  The bacteria need a warm, but not hot and not cold environment to proliferate.  So, with that in mind, when your mixture is 110 - pour in the packet of starter and mix well.   I even let mine sit for about a minute and mixed it again.

Now comes the easy part.  Pour the mixture into your yogurt cups (or whatever you're going to use) and put them into your yogurt maker (or whatever your setup is).  I personally like thick yogurt, the longer you let yours incubate, the thicker it gets, as long as there is enough sugar.  When the sugar runs out... the sulfur smell will start.  Then you're 'losing' your yogurt.  The bacteria are dying at that point.  I left mine in the yogurt maker for 15 hours.  It was very good.

As her website says - do not stir it or bother it, just take it out of the machine and put it straight to the fridge.  It will solidify up even more and be ready to eat when chilled, about 6 hours.  I'll start my yogurt process around 3pm on one day and it will be ready to eat around 24 hours later.  Plan accordingly.  =)

(pictures were taken with my droid - so not the best quality but NOT BAD!!! YAY!)


Monday, May 21, 2012

Friday on Monday

SOOOOOO.  For everyone who noticed, Friday came and went without yogurt OR the surprise recipe I was going to share.  Yikes.  Someone needs to start telling my boss I'm a total slacker.  Oh ya, the boss is me.  Well, I blame Diablo III.  It's been a lot of fun playing like the old days, just now you can get groups and talk to your friends and all the great things I've always been addicted to in games.  While I was engrossed in my computer, you were all sitting here on Friday hoping for the best yogurt ever.  Well, I'm working on that today, I have some energy, things are going along a good path today and I'm going to use it while I have it... which may only be an hour or two more, but hey! it's something.

Today is going to be a great day for yogurt because I can let it sit today and most of the night and hope for the best.  I have about 7 cans of coconut milk so when one doesn't turn out right, we'll move onto the next.  I wish I had agar flakes because I think that seems to be the catch to this yogurt thing.  The thickener can really make or break it.  I was using gelatin but anyone who's ever had jello and didn't like the texture can tell you why the yogurt would seem a bit funny.

OK.  Since everyone was somewhat left behind on Friday, here's the recipe I came up with quite by accident.  I would suggest using a thai coconut (even though I didn't have one at the time.)  Also, I have made my own coconut ice cream before and I VERY MUCH recommend you do that.  If not, well follow the recipe below and enjoy a nice summer treat!

Coconut Shakes

1 can of coconut milk (non sweetened)
1/2 - 1 quart of homemade sugar free coconut ice cream or sugar free/low carb vanilla (Breyers is good) use more to make it thicker
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or coconut flavoring
6-8 oz of shredded unsweetened coconut (this is where it's better just to use a real coconut, I can't find unsweetened sugar free coconut anywhere)
pinch of salt

Add everything to a blender (if you want a high protein kick, add a scoop of your favorite mix).  Blend on high until well mixed, pour, serve. Enjoy!

Of course no camera, no pictures.  I'm working on it though!

UPDATE!  I totally forgot that you can buy unsweetened coconut flakes, or shredded coconut at Whole Foods.  I knew I had been buying it somewhere but then suddenly couldn't find it.  This is because we moved back home and I shop at the local store.  Whole Foods is a 30 min drive!   Tropical Traditions is one of my FAVORITE companies ever and they also have it, but you'll have to ship.  They have delicious and wonderful coconut oil and flours and everything you'd ever need coconut.  Perhaps one of my next recipes will be the ice cream since you need to know how to make that in order to get this amazing shake.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sneak Peek Monday - Return of the Coconuts!

Who doesn't love coconuts?   I could go into minute detail about every lovely thing about sweet coconut flesh, but then I'd have to ask everyone to get their heads out of the gutter and follow me to the kitchen.   My favorite is probably Thai (or young/green) coconuts.  Getting into these things is a lesson in machete wielding.  There is no easy way.  Lucky for us, there are plenty of YouTube videos to show us how to do it.  As you can see from Friday's post, I had a bit of trouble organizing the yogurt party, but do not worry, this week, I'm very focused on making it this week's achievement.  If any of you tried the pudding over the weekend, you'll know it was pretty heavenly, rich and definitely tropical.  When served cold, it's almost too rich to eat for breakfast... yep.  I had it for breakfast - or tried.

So this week, I doubt I will be buying any Thai coconuts, but I will be buying a lot of coconut milk, and stocking plenty of patience as I work with my thermometer and yogurt maker.  Be prepared for an explanation of epic proportions.  Also, you'll need some yogurt starter, or cultures, a little bit of sugar, and something to thicken.  Some people use corn starch, some use pectin, or agar flakes.  I tried gelatin last time and got nothing but I think my major mistake was sugar content.  I was trying to go easy on sugar, but when you do that - you starve the bacteria.  They need to grow to ferment correctly and without it, you get nothing.  By the time the fermentation is done, there should be little to no sugars left as the bacteria have eaten them.  Obviously, if you're here for the vegan aspect of this recipe, you'll not use gelatin.  I'll work on that perhaps another time.  I have corn starch but us sugar babies should steer away from this, corn is very carb heavy/sugary.

Coconut milk is healthy and tasty, not to mention a great low sugar addition to any diet.  It's better than cow's milk in the fact that there's no lactose (dairy sugars - which can be a double bad for some people) plus no worry about growth hormones, antibiotics or fair and humane treatment of animals.   It's definitely a vegan dream.  Here's your hint for the week!  {You're probably thinking, "Why do we need a hint, you just told us we're going to make yogurt!"}  Sure, we're going to try to make yogurt.  That is not a guarantee of success.  It's just this week's challenge which I hope to be posting a successful recipe by Friday.  I realize there are a lot of successful recipes on the internet, but so far, they are not working for me.  I will continue to experiment until I find one and then you can come here and try it for yourself.  The hint is:  if my yogurt fails again this week, I'll be posting a recipe for a super sweet sugar free treat that is easy, fun, perfect for summer and a coconut lover's dream.

See you Friday!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Free Friday - Chia pudding!

It should be very obvious at this point that I was unable to create the coconut yogurt.  I really did try, but didn't get to the store in time to buy more milk.  I did however find a great recipe from another site that I will link with my modifications.   Also these few days, I did try an almond milk custard which did not turn out anything close to what I expected.  I added chia seeds to that too and it has great texture, but not very custard-y and more like egg and sugar flavored gelatin.  ick.  Well, some failures just have to lead to success eventually.

I did want to have pudding though and chia is my new love currently.  I wanted to share this recipe from another site:  http://marcussamuelsson.com/recipes/chia-seed-pudding-recipe

Her pictures are gorgeous of course and the end result is oh so delicious.  The modifications are as follows:

Tropical Chia pudding

2.5 cups coconut milk
2 tbsp splenda, OR 12 drops liquid stevia, OR 1/4 tsp Nu Naturals stevia
1/2 cup chia seeds
3 tbsp crushed macadamia nuts
3tbsp shredded coconut - thai would be my preference (if desired)

Also, if you want to give this some kick, and can tolerate the juice, add some pineapple juice or extract to this.  Remember if you add any liquid to increase your chia, as that is your thickener.   Basically you're going to get a pina colada flavored pudding.  I like the coconut macadamia mix, still very coconutty, fresh and rich.  Now, I know what you're thinking... what happened to my scale???  Well, I was in a hurry, I threw some things together to and followed the recipe as it was on the website. I have not had time to convert it, but will come back and try to fix these things.  If you're already ahead of me measuring and weighing, then disregard my fix later and enjoy your pudding!

Since I'm in a hurry, and have no decent camera, there are no pics today but will be back on Monday with hopefully a new sneak peek!

Happy Mother's Day!  Celebrate with this great pudding for a cool tropical afternoon treat!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Monday Madness

ON WEDNESDAY!!!  LOL.   Soooo, if you didn't notice, I kinda missed Monday.  I blame the weather, my inability to focus some days and the fact that sometimes I'm just incapable of anything but trouble.  Monday went by like most of them do, with that impending sense of doom and "omg it's Monday."  Nothing really wrong with this day if it's a day off, but then Tuesday becomes Monday and you live through it anyway.  I digress.

So, here I am catching up from Monday, on Wednesday.  Who says we can't shake it up a bit?  =)  I have recently made my decision about the whole mess with technology.  I currently have 3 pc's in my home which I built myself.  I bought an iPod touch 4th gen a year ago to keep up with the technological demands of friends who love to talk as much as I do and at the time, Apple was the only company making anything like that.  Touch technology has been a dream of the 80's child for sometime.  To see it realized is like Steven Speilberg actually finding E.T. one day in a galaxy far far away - like his own back yard.  

Well, everyone knows my iPod met an unfortunate demise, and I had already been thinking of a new tablet for the house for kiddos.  Well, the choice seemed really clear after that incident.  I bought the iPad to preserve what was on my iPod and take advantage of all the apps I had already purchased.  Then, I had always wanted an Android product, so this was my chance!  I was finally going to be able to get one.  I had been considering replacing the iPod earlier but now I needed a new mp3 player.  You're asking yourself, why didn't you just get an iPhone or a Galaxy S II (SWEET) and save yourself buying a phone too.  Well.  There's always gotta be someone who lives in the past right?  The thing is, I use my phone and iPod simultaneously many times.  I can surf the net, look up things, do email, chat with friends and take pictures all while I'm talking on the phone.  Then my phone battery dies and I have to plug it in.  Imagine me trying to do all that at once on my phone (which cannot be done,  many times a call cannot be in progress while the device 'surfs the net.')  Plus, the way I see it, I would be constantly attached to the power cord, and what good is that?  I thought the evolution of the 90's to a cordless phone was the whole point of no cords.

I bought the iPad.  I bought a Galaxy player.  I bought a phone that does NOT require a data plan.  I'm still trying to buy a camera but I'm a little perplexed with that.  I had a good camera, not great by any means of the word, but still decent.  I'd like to replace it and there are many on the market which are similar, but for some reason my particular model is very popular.  As in, it costs twice what it did when I bought it, kind of popular.  What does this have to do with Friday's meal?  Nothing really other than the fact that I have no real camera to take pictures with, therefore, will not have much in the way of great food pics.  I do have a new photographer, so if that pans out, we might get lucky in the next few weeks, which are also going to be very busy.

My new thing lately is trying desperately to make a vegan yogurt.  I am not vegan by any sense of the word, but I love coconut anything.  Coconut oil is very good for you, coconut meat is delicious, young (Thai) coconuts are heavenly, coconut milk is great, coconut cream (whipped) is perfect, and coconut shakes have magical properties that transport you to another time and place where the world is perfect and life is beautiful.  But I digress.  Again.

I'd like to make coconut yogurt, and I think I'm going to give that a shot today or tomorrow.  It would be GREAT to share a winning recipe for delicious creamy, tasty, rich coconut yogurt.  Perfect for breakfasts with some almonds, snack or of course, people with aversions to dairy.  This would be a low/no sugar yogurt that you flavor after making it.

So here is today's hint, I'm going to call it 'Wednesday's Challenge' because there isn't really a hint.  The challenge is:  Am I really going to be able to make a successful batch of coconut yogurt by Friday?!

See you in 2 days to find out!  Consolation prize will be a different recipe or meal idea, and no pizza!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Return of the Blog

Yes!  I'm alive!  For a while, I was pretty sure that the food blog world would mourn my inevitable passing as time went on and everyone realized that there were no more posts to be found from me, however, it's just a short term trend while I got back on my feet from my last excursion.

I'd share all the lovely pictures but, alas, they were all stolen.  If you ever didn't want to re-learn a lesson in your life that you already knew, then you know exactly where I'm coming from.  It was one of those scenarios that you know is happening right in front of you, but as the clueless tourist I am, did not heed the warning bells in my head.  Always listen to that.  I knew this.  Around and around in circles we go.

Needless to say, there aren't many pictures (the backup plan is a product endorsement I would rather avoid today, but I still bought one of them; and thank you my friend for letting me fill your phone with my frivolities.)  I spent this week pretty much replacing all my stuff.  In the meantime, my blog has suffered greatly from negligence again, BUT on the bright side, we have a new photographer.  For the time being I will post my own (mediocre at best) photos of the food I make but when she contributes, I'll be sure to let everyone know who's work it is (like you won't be able to tell - lol.)

Today we're taking on that continuation of Monday from 3 weeks ago.  I would LOVE to share what I learned on my trip, but they're not so good for the sugar free crowd (fried plantains) but they are my current addiction.  Finally, I found a market today that sells the good ones.  I fried three, ate them all with my version of Costa Rican sour cream (plain yogurt) and then realized that was probably 2 more than I should have eaten.  They were really good though.  So, for the gluten free, sugar free crowd, today we have a nice "salad."  It's more of a classic and surely nothing new or exciting so much, however it IS one of my personal favorites and a great addition to a summer table.  Healthy and colorful, this would be a great salad for your table during tomorrow's festivities.

So, my meal suggestion/recipe for today is a modified Caprese Salad.  The traditional Caprese has mozzarella, basil (or some type of pesto) with nice bright red tomatoes and hearty olive oil.  But today, I'm changing things up a bit, we're going to add some kick and your friends and family are guaranteed to love this salad on a hot summer day as a nice cool, light meal.

Kicked Caprese

2 bright full red tomatoes, chopped
1 medium ball of fresh mozzarella, chopped (a little bigger than one of the tomatoes)
couple handfuls of torn basil
2 medium hardness avocados, chopped and drizzled with lemon or lime juice to slow the browning
salt and pepper to taste
salad worthy olive oil of your choice
clean and bright balsamic vinegar of your choice

The simplicity is part of the fun in this summer salad.  Since everything is chopped, gently toss them together in a bowl.  Crack some fresh pepper over the top - I love to use a multi colored pepper, reds and black and white, all together to give it some snap.  Give a couple twists of fresh ground sea salt over the salad - go easy, the cheese will give it some saltiness.  Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic over in light handed quantities. I do not put exact measurements on this because one person's dressing is another person's swimming pool.  You could even leave a couple nice bottles out of the oil and vinegar separate from the salad so people can add their own, and completely skip the step with adding these dressings.

This fresh salad is a crowd pleaser, easy to make, and visually fun.  Enjoy!

If you're wondering where my beautiful fresh basil leaves are in this picture, well you'd be as sad as I was to realize after I chopped everything, I didn't have any fresh basil.  I did sprinkle with dried, but it's simply not the same.  Make sure you have real, fresh basil before making this salad, you'll be oh-so-not-sad you did!