Saturday, August 29, 2009

Working on the Secret to A Fast Smoothie!

Ok, this is an in-progress post and we hope to figure out this challenge soon. The goal is to figure out a way to make smoothies that doesn't take forever and is healthy and delicious. We also found ourselves with an abundance of fresh fruit that was ripening before we could eat it!

So, we decided to take a cue from a new product we recently saw and freeze our fresh fruit. This way, it would be ready to be blended into a smoothie! So we cut and froze white peaches, strawberries, blueberries, and melon all at once and put them in airtight glass containers.

Now what would have been ideal would be to simulate individually quick frozen (IQF) products. If you buy frozen products, you will have noticed that some packages of frozen pasta and vegetables have individually frozen pieces that don’t stick together. The food industry calls that IQF or individually quick frozen where the pieces are quickly frozen individually so that they don't freeze into one giant block or clump together. It's great for portioning frozen food without have to thaw it first.

You may also remember the boxes of frozen vegetables that are one giant block such as peas or mixed vegetables. Yeah, that’s not IQF and that’s essentially what we did. We made blocks of frozen fruit and even though they would be blended, they weren’t easily released from the glass containers.

So, we added the blueberry and strawberries, releasing them with a bit of chipping, added a very ripe banana and some fresh pomegranate juice. A bit of blending in the Vitamix and…

We had a deep purple-licious smoothie. It was really really good!

But it wasn’t as simple as we had hoped. So, for round two, I’m thinking about freezing the exact proportion of fruit in a Ziploc for easy release. We could freeze them individually on a cookie sheets but that seems like too much trouble for something that will be blended. And we will be experimenting with adding milk vs juice. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Play With Your Food: A Tale of Two Play Kitchens!

We all know real cooking is fun but pretend cooking? That is pretty marvelous too. And what better way to start engaging kids with cooking but through play?

I wanted to share two really great play kitchens from two of my friends. What I love about both of them is that you don't need a lot of bells and whistles or electronics to inspire imaginations and creative play.

Kitchen #1: The DIY Play Kitchen from Nicola

My friend, Nicola, has an amazing blog, Which Name, about "frugality, earth friendly living, family, simplifying, and arts & crafting." She posted this $2 Play Kitchen that she and her husband refurbished for their daughter. But it didn't look like this when they bought it...

It looked like this! With some TLC and items around the house, they transformed it. They estimated that if they bought the items they used, it would have cost about 20 dollars.

As far as the lasting popularity of play kitchens with Nicola's kids, she told me, "We had a $20 used plastic cook set for our daughter, which I bought for outside use when she was a toddler. But it was such a popular item with all the kids, and one with such staying power (at 4 she was still loving it, as was her 1 year old brother), that I wanted one for inside with a nicer aesthetic. We are too frugal to buy a new wood one, so enter our yard sale find." Here's the link to her original post!

So, if you are feeling inspired about making your own play kitchen from a shelf, from a box, from a table...check out this DIY Play Kitchen Roundup link at full of photos of many different, inspiring DIY play kitchens made by creative moms and dads.

Kitchen #2: Little I's Simple Play Kitchen

If "doing it yourself" isn't your thing, you can find many simple play kitchens that inspire little hands to play. Mama A did a lot web research to find the perfect play kitchen for her 2 and 1/2 year old, Little I (you might remember Little I's first baking experience on my old baking blog here). "I didn't want one with all the bells and dings (inhibits her creativity/ super annoying), nor would it have fit into my house. Also I thought it should not be particularly girly. Everyone cooks!" she says. She liked the Plan Toys ones but they were pretty pricey. She finally chose this one at Ooompa which is in the photo above.

So, do you have a play kitchen? Did you make it or buy it? Would love to hear your thoughts or even see a photo!

Monday, August 24, 2009

One Minute Monday Morning Breakfast Sandwich!

Do you have a case of the Mondays? This one minute breakfast sandwich might help.

When I was in high school, I used to carpool with a friend whose mom made her a homemade“Egg McMuffin” breakfast sandwich. I was so jealous as she ate that in the car on the way to school.

Well, I am jealous no longer as I recently learned a way to make a delicious breakfast sandwich using one cup and these ingredients- so no frying pan to clean!

Here’s how to do it. Crack an egg into a coffee mug...

and use a fork to whisk the yolk and white together just like for scrambled eggs. Put it in the microwave for 30 seconds.While the egg is cooking, put your English muffin in the toaster.

BEEEP. Your egg is only half-done. Don’t eat it yet...

instead add salt and pepper and crumble some cheddar cheese on top. You can use a grater but I am even lazier on a weekday so I break apart a slice. Back in the microwave for 15- 30 seconds- watch as it can expand over the mug if it goes too long.

BOIINNG! Your English muffin should be done and in a few seconds, your egg too.

The cheese should look nice and melty like this!

I flip it onto a toasted muffin and add salt and pepper to the other side. I press it down, wrap it in a napkin, and it’s ready to go!

So, if you are watching your cholesterol, calories etc, you can use egg whites or Egg Beaters as well as a lower fat cheese. My neighbor uses Laughing Cow. But if you aren’t, a good cage free egg tastes marvelous with some sharp cheddar. Would love to hear if you have a favorite combination!


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fruit Flowers On A Stick: A How To Guide

Well if you didn’t guess, the fruit flower bowl was my entry in the Food On A Stick contest. I chose it because it was a beautiful and healthy way to eat fruit!

You may remember my mystery tools that I recently posted. Well they are fruit and vegetable carving tools. You can see that most of them are slicers and cutters that create ripples or edges. The one unusual in the upper left tools is a spiral cutter. It handcranks into the fruit or veggie and creates two interlocking spirals- like a corkscrew! I actually only used the spiral cutter and my flower shaped cookie cutters for this particular project.

And the tools came with this book, The Art of Garnishing by Jerry Crowley, which has all sorts of examples. I haven't tried making the watermelon whales but I am considering it!

So, how did I create these? Well, I used a combination of the spiral cutting and two cookie cutters. I cut a small piece of melon rind for the base of each stick to keep the fruit from sliding. If you don't have this tool, you don't need to make the spirals. Just put a tiny piece of melon rind to keep things from sliding. I read that someone recommended gum drops. It doesn't work and made a huge sticky mess. The gumdrops absorbed the fruit moisture ( yuck) and got the skewer all gummy.

I used a variety of fruits: strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, kiwi and honeydew melon. The watermelon was pretty ripe (maybe overly) and delicate. It wasn’t ideal for the flower cutouts.

Pineapple words well because it is firm and stays in place on the skewer. I also chose fruits that would not brown- so apples or bananas! Apples and bananas brown due to enzymatic reactions- this can be slowed with the addition of acid like lemon juice but I didn’t want to interfere with taste.

The kiwi was very easy to cut and worked very well. Just slice and use the cutter- no peeling!

Fruit Flower #1

To create these flowers, I purposely used the pineapple as a base support over the spiral. I knew it wouldn’t slide and would hold up the delicate watermelon. Then I layered a kiwi and a strawberry.

Here's the top view. You can position the flowers to alternate and show each petal.

Fruit Flower #2

For this flower, I adapted to a problem I was having. I kept breaking a petal on the watermelon cutout. So, decided to use that to my advantage and prop it upright on the stick, right where the missing petal was. Voila!

And to create the bowl, I sliced a tiny bit from the bottom of the half cut melon so it wouldn’t wobble. I then used a pairing knife and hand cut a little scalloping edge. I realized I could cut out the rind and expose the pink flesh for a litte contrast- totally by accident. It looked great. You can see the honeydew melon on the left where I drilled the spirals!

And so for the final assembly, I arranged the skewers into the watermelon base and it turned out great! I have heard of others using cabbage as a good base as well. This is the perfect treat for a baby shower, birthday party etc. You can get indulgent by chocolate dipping the fruits if you like.

And what did we do with the fruit scraps? Saved them for some smoothies in the Vitamix!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

22 New Food-spirations On A Stick

Well, my company had its first ever Food On A Stick contest (inspired by this post about our trip to the Minnesota State Fair last year) at our annual picnic and the results were outstanding! As you can see, it was a smorgasboard of gastronomic discovery and delight from savory to sweet creations, from skewers to edible sticks!

All of the entries were delicious and unique and we had to showcase each entry since they were so fabulous. We'll list them below by two categories while indicating the winners: sweet and savory!

The Savory Food On A Stick Entries

Winner for Best Savory: Bacon Wrapped Shrimp on a Stick with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli

Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Chicken with Green Curry on a Stick

Poked Ahi

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Mini-Scotch Eggs (hard-boiled quail eggs wrapped in sausage, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried)

Koolicles: These are Kool-Aid Pickles, a Southern tradition

The Sweet Food On A Stick Entries

Best Sweet on a Stick: White Chocolate Cheesecake with Whipped Cream and Raspberry Sauce

Most Creative: Cosmopolitan on a Stick ( it's Jell-o!)

Best Presentation: 24 karat carrot at the end of a stick chocolate truffles

Strawberry Shortcake on a Stick

Salted Peanut Butter and Chocolate Sticks

Crack Jack Cheesecake on a Stick

Cookies Pops: Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter, Buttermilk and Double Chocolate Chip with Cherry

Almond Chocolate Chip Brownies on a Stick

Caramelized Bananas in Chocolate

Frozen Yogurt Pie-sicles

Gingerbread Sticks

Swiss Lollies

Fruit Flowers

Sugar Daddies (edible sticks!)

Wabi Sabi Pocky

Congratulations to all of the participants! The event was a delicious success!