High Protein Take-Along Tasting Chocolate (aka, What all Mommies Need in their Diaper Bag)


I first caught on to the idea of a tasting chocolate from a friend. She whipped up a rich, creamy, chocolate with a spread-type consistency using cocoa and coconut oil and a few other ingredients. I watched her eat it by the spoonful.

Flash forward to my friend Shannon, during her pregnancy and afterwards, turning to her Justin’s brand nut butter with maple syrup, or chocolate in a little squeeze tube like a ketchup packet for a protein rich treat.

I gave that stuff a try and loved it, but felt guilty about the packaging waste, and was somewhat stunned by the ticket price $1.79 on average per little packet. I guess you pay for the convenience of it. It was nice to just reach in my bag, pull one out and discreetly ingest it ( I have two kids under five years…having something for yourself means hiding and discreetly ingesting, ok!).

Eating nut butter or even chocolate in this way is revolutionary for me. Not sure why it has taken me so long to really try it out myself. I’ve had ample examples from friends over the years. I remember watching my high school buddy eating peanut butter by the spoonful, but back then I just thought it was odd. I was locked into the idea that nut butters needed to be on something, not stand alone. It’s taken me this long to get on the band wagon!

I’ve been really craving these small portions of nut butter during the day, but couldn’t bring myself to buy the packs, for the reasons listed above. I decided, I can make this myself by combining the tasting chocolate idea with the nut butter protein pack.

Last post I wrote about my DIY chocolate nut butter. This is just a little different, a little more indulgent, with a few additional ingredients and smoother consistency.

Here is what you will need (keep in mind you can make this as indulgent as you want with the ingredients you choose. Choose a Dutch chocolate for superior cocoa flavor, but pay the additional cost, etc.):

1 baby food sized container with lid 

1 heaping tsp organic cocoa powder

1 tsp coconut oil

3 heaping teaspoons creamy, non sweetened nut butter. I used sunflower seed butter (Trader Joe’s now carries a sunflower seed butter that is un-sweetened)

1 tsp maple syrup (you can use honey instead)

Optional ingredients: 1/4 tsp maca powder, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, or cinnamon powder to taste.

All of this is to taste. The approximate ratio for nut butter to everything else is 3:1. However, if your nut butter is a more thick/dry consistency (almond butter can be this way) you may want to ad more coconut  oil, a tsp at a time.20180625_084544

Combine nut butter, cocoa powder, and maple syrup and mix thoroughly. I like to ad a pinch of maca powder too but this is optional. Then add coconut oil, one tsp at a time to make it the consistency you want.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine a bit of vanilla extract would be nice, or a pinch of cinnamon. But that would be hypothesis on my part and not field tested. If you try it, let me know!

Once mixed it should be a nice creamy, slightly thick consistency that sticks to your spoon. Enjoy one spoon (or two) at a time. I like to pop the container, along with a spoon into my bag and pull it out when I need just little pick me up.

Enjoy and tell me what you think!

S

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DIY Chocolate Nut Butter


I have this thing for chocolate nut butter. It started late in life, like, after having two babies. Before that, I never really craved anything sweet, and chocolate was a take it or leave it thing. It still is often a take it or leave it. I don’t have a stash of chocolate in my pantry (most of the time), and I can go months without it. But not too long ago I stumbled upon a jar of chocolate almond butter at our local Grocery Outlet. The only reason I even considered it was because it was discounted AND the deciding factor was that the ingredients list was relatively simple.

Well, that started the slide. Not only did I really enjoy it, but my hubs really got into it too. Subsequent trips to the GroOut left us empty handed, as same stock is not guaranteed.

I didn’t grow up with Nutella. I know why, now, after reading the label. My mom was much too health conscious for that. The ingredients list reads like a horror story for any individual remotely aware of what is good or bad to put into your body.

When my hubs had asked several times whether I had tracked down a bottle of the stuff, and I kept coming up empty, I decided, what the hey, maybe I can make it myself

Turns out, I can, and for really cheap. Plus, you know what you’ve put in it, and there are no extras.

For under the cost of a pre-made jar (usually about $12 around these parts). I’d say I spent maybe $8 and the jar is larger than most of the choco nut butters you can find. So without further ado, I give you the magic ingredients:

1 jar of raw creamy almond butter ($5.99 at Trader Joe’s)- or whatever nut butter you’d like (the simpler the better, check to see if it’s just ground nuts or if they’ve added a whole bunch of junk. Also note that nut butters can cost a lot, depending on where you shop…so that’s why I gave you the hint on the TJ’s brand one- and no, they are not paying me!)

Approx imately 4 TBSP honey (I think I got mine from TJs for $6.99 keeping in mind you are only using a fraction of the jar).

2 heaping Tsps cocoa powder ( I already had it in my pantry, but let’s say around $6, more if you get organic, or the Dutch kind)

First you are going to need to mix the almond butter since it is most likely separated. Then you will have to use a bit of it to make some space in the jar for the ingredients you will be adding. I put the hubs to work on that, and he consumed several tablespoons worth on his  breakfast toast.

Now, put in all of the above ingredients and stir until fully incorporated. You should taste test it and ad any additional amounts to suit your taste. I don’t want mine particularly sweet.

You can also substitute sweeteners, maple syrup is a great alternative choice. Different nut butters are also an option. I don’t do peanut butter, but I love sunflower seed butter if you are going for a more “peanutty” flavor.

This chocolate nut butter is great on crepes, on toast with raspberry jam, slathered on a graham cracker or just by itself!

Enjoy!

Next time I’ll share with you another great guilty pleasure- tasting chocolate that packs a high protein punch!

Masala Paste from Scratch


Ok. Here I am again, posting about cooking. Let me put in a quick disclaimer: I am not a chef. I am a self taught dabbler, a mother of two and wife of one (no polygamy here). I had no interest in food until, in art school, I discovered that I needed to cook, or die. Thus began my foray into cuisine, first by frantically phoning my mom to ask basic cooking questions, and then, starting to use my gut.

If you are a details person, you like to follow instructions to a tee, measure out everything exactly, this is not the post for you, stop reading immediately and find another recipe.

If you are a person who, like me, tends to scan recipes, compile the fundamentals in your mind basket, and then go-to with wild abandon, substituting with rough equivalents where ingredients are lacking, then this might be for you, read on.

A dear friend of mine recently tried my curry from scratch and asked if I could give her my recipe. I had to answer “no”. Not because it is any great secret, but because I really haven’t the foggiest when it comes to the exact ingredients I use when making my basic masala paste from which my curries emerge. I realized that this has got to change. I really do need to lay it out once and for all. My husband is a huge fan of my curries so I make it quite regularly, however, they always turn out a little different.

Can I also preface this with…I am an ignoramus when it comes to Indian cuisine. I do not know the specifics about the different curries nor their names. I am a novice in the world of Indian spices, yet they delight and tantalize me. They have an amazing power and fragrance and in a world of less is more, the opposite is actually true of these incredible spices, just add more, more, more! It took me a while to realize that I needed to not hold back with the amount of spices I put in. My measly amounts of spices were pathetic. Now, I happily purchase bulk spices in their seed form. You can buy the pre-ground and make life easier, but I believe much of the deliciousness comes from freshly grinding the spices as needed.

So, saying that, if you are anything like me, you already want to throw in the towel. I always get overwhelmed by the prerequisites to a recipe “oh, I need that tool?” “oh, I have to get those spices?””Gaw, I’ll just eat ramen”

Hear me out. What you need is a coffee grinder if you are using the spice seeds. If you have pre-ground, give that grinder no second thought. ( most of us have coffee grinders. I now possess my own “spices” coffee grinder after one too many coffee tasting of cumin. However, coffee with a hint of cardamom is delicious!). It is also helpful to have either an immersion blender or food processors (food processors, I hear they are useful. I haven’t got one).

What you need for spices seems like a long list. It is. But, if you get hooked like I did, you are going to be using them for a long time. Heck, you probably have a few already:

  • cumin seeds
  • paprika
  • garam masala
  • cardamom (whole) or inner cardamom seeds
  • coriander seeds
  • black pepper corns
  • turmeric (I use the powder)
  • mustard seeds
  • clove
  • fenugreek seeds

 

If you don’t have all of those, that’s ok, it’s still going to taste delicious.

Other ingredients:

  • 2 med onions
  • sea salt
  • 5 to 6 cloves of garlic
  • a thumbs length of garlic (roughly two tablespoons when chopped)
  • a can of diced tomatoes or several large tomatoes diced.
  • ghee…or butter…or coconut oil.

Here we go, step by step with pictures!

  1. Get out a pan. ( If you are using powder, skip this and the next step) I love my cast iron skillets. I despise non-stick. The first will (apparently) leave trace amounts of iron in your food- good for those of us always low on iron and pregnant ladies. The latter, will leave trace amounts of mystery chemicals, especially if it’s been scratched or roughed up. A good compromise: a stainless steel pan. With pan on medium heat toss on a tablespoon of each of the following: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, inner cardamom seeds*, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and roughly twenty cloves.  Toast them in the pan. Toast until fragrant (roughly 30 seconds?) If they start to smoke, you’re done! Take the pan off the heat. This happens relatively quickly, so do not walk away. Use your expert tossing skills to shimmy those seeds around the pan as they heat.* On closer examination of this photo I realized I had no cardamom on the pan. Further sleuthing revealed that the spice lady at the shop had neglected to even sell me any. Oops. I can attest to the fact that this recipe is delish sans cardamom).

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2. Pour toasted seeds into a grinder and grind until fine and fragrant.20160816_150138.jpg

3. Chop the garlic, ginger and onions roughly and set aside in either separate ( if you like to feel like those chefs on TV with pinch bowls) or a single bowl. It is not necessary to spend time on this as it will all be blended once cooked.

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4. Begin heating a decent sized pot. It’s going to hold all of your masala, so make sure it’s not a small pot. I’d say a medium to large one. In the warm pot, add 2 tablespoons ghee (or whatever oil you’ve chosen). I like to use ghee…it makes it feel more authentic, though I can’t honestly say it is any different from butter. Coconut oil adds a little bit of flavor. In my estimation, if you are going to use coconut oil, this is the type of dish to use it in, the flavor lends itself well to curries. Sprinkle in some salt too…this is a great time to incorporate some salty goodness. Now toss in the ground spice. If this is the first time the spice has touched a pan, aka if you bought it pre-ground, I recommend putting it in first, before the oil and salt and letting it warm and “toast” briefly before adding the other stuff. It’s all about releasing the aroma and flavor!20160816_150731.jpg

5. Once the ghee has melted (it happens fast) toss in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir well on high heat, then lower to a simmer.20160816_150813.jpg

Now make a cup of tea (preferably a spiced chai) and hold your horses while you wait for the onions to cook down. You want them to be transparent. Don’t rush this stage. If you don’t let the onions caramelize you are wasting some great natural sweetness. This could take at least 10 minutes. Breathe.20160816_151043.jpg

6. As you wait, or in your own good time, gather together the following spices, all approximately a tablespoon …except for the cayenne: that is “to taste”. (I have some incredible Birds Eye Pepper cayenne that is HOT. I used only a quarter teaspoon): Black pepper (preferably freshly ground), turmeric (this is a root, so I buy it in powder form), garam masala ( also a proprietary blend of spices, so comes in powder form) and cayenne.20160816_151555.jpg

Go ahead and add those spices to the pot. Stir well to incorporate.20160816_151623.jpg

By now the whole thing should be thickening up and gluing itself together. You will also start to worry that it’s drying out and about to burn. If the onions are still not transparent, then add a bit of water, just enough to keep it from burning. Do this periodically until those onions are soft. Then cook until dry and about to burn. Now’s the time to…

7. throw in the diced tomatoes. Fresh is best but I did not have any, so canned it was (if you really want to go the health nut way, you only use fresh, because there’s good research that shows that canned tomatoes are pretty bad for you – the acid in them leeches the plastic lining out. Yes, even if it’s BPA free lining, it’s still a synthetic lining of some kind. But if, like me, you’ve obsessed, stressed and ultimately surrendered to theses realities, you will weigh the good against the bad and just go ahead and use it anyway…if sparingly).20160816_151655.jpg

Stir. Now watch as that tomato and its juices helps to de-glaze the pan. Now you’re lookin’ at an almost finished masala paste. You just need to cook that down for a bit. I’d say roughly 15 minutes of simmering with the lid off.

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8. When you’ve cooked it down a decent amount (it should look like a thick tomato sauce) turn of the heat and let cool.

9. If you are anxious like me, sometimes, or in a time bind, you’re gonna want to blend that up right away. I advise not to. Do you like being burned by scalding hot masala paste? I didn’t think so. Hopefully, you’ve waited at least 20 minutes. Now, go ahead and blend that masala smooth using your immersion blender or whatever other fancy tool you might have for doing this. You can now use this masala paste to immediately make a massive vat of curry. Or, like me, you might choose to divide it and sock some away in the freezer for a future meal. This is how I divided mine:

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2/3 in a jar to be used the next day on a curry for four adults and two kids. The last third in a ziplock to be frozen. It will expand to make enough curry for my family of 4.

That’s it. That’s all. I hope you could follow that relatively well. Just in case not, I have handily combined the instructions without the pics and needless commentary below!

Cooking Instructions:

1 With pan on medium heat toss on a tablespoon of each of the following: cumen seeds, coriander seeds, inner cardamom seeds*, mustard seeds, fennugreek seeds and roughly twenty cloves.  Toast them in the pan. Toast until fragrant (roughly 30 seconds) If they start to smoke, you’re done! Take the pan off the heat. 

2. Grind the toasted seeds and set aside.

3. Chop the garlic, ginger and onions roughly and set aside in either separate or a single bowl.

4. Begin heating a large pot. In the warm pot, add 2 tablespoons ghee (or whatever oil you’ve chosen). Add a teaspoon of salt. Add in the ground spices. Stir.

5. Toss in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir well on high heat, then lower to a simmer.

6. Gather together a teaspoon each of the following spices ( cayenne to taste): black pepper, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne. Add to pot and stir well to incorporate. 

7. When onion mixture is well caramelized and transparent, add in one large can of diced tomato, stir well. Set on simmer until cooked down to consistency of a thick tomato sauce. Approximately 20 minutes.

8. Blend cooled masala into a paste. Use immediately or store in zip lock bags in freezer. Makes enough for roughly two meals (for up to 4 adults per meal).

 

Thanks for checking this out. If you are curious about how I expand this into a curry, check out my next blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

Salt Brine


Ahh. This poor wallowing blog. It’s a sad state of affairs, I know, when I have no creative endeavor to blog about.

So, I will seek out the creative in my everyday, because being a mom is a creativity-on-the-fly kind of a proposition.

In recent years I’ve actually turned to cooking as a creative/relaxing-ish process. I’m in the kitchen a lot anyway, and I can’t not cook, sooo …might as well enjoy it. I approach it much like I do my painting and drawing: I do not ever use a recipe, I do use references and then piece it together, I do it all on the fly and often from random things I find in my fridge and cupboards. The less planned out, the more satisfying (my high school art teacher will be clutching his heart at this point; what, no pre sketches?!).

So, because I don’t have any methodical method to this madness, it sometimes takes me a bit to figure out the trick to something. I have to accidentally hit on it several times before the correlation between certain ingredients, time, application etc. spark recognition in me. Then, out of that comes a dish I can mostly replicate…but never exactly.

The recent discovery, people, is salt brining.

How many times have I made…or more often had chicken, or pork, that looks absolutely delicious, but when I bite into it, I am appalled by its lack of flavour?

The answer is: many. Many times. Too many times.

The problem is not even that it isn’t salted (that’s another issue I have…you HAVE to salt meat), it’s that it wasn’t salted properly.

When I bite into meat, I don’t want flavour just on the outside layer, I want it all the way through.

That’s simple, you say, just marinate the damn thing for 24 hours. Oh, you bet, that is definitely the way.

Did I mention I am now a mom of two under three? Did I mention that I am not a planner? Quite frankly, getting frozen meat out of the freezer with enough time allotted to thaw is a challenge for me most of the time. So, yes, if I manage to think days ahead, I can thaw my meat and soak it in a 24 hour marinade and it’s golden.

BBUUUUUT for all you last minute chicas and hombres out there, there is an easier way. And, even if you still want to put a 12 hour marinade on a choice piece of meat, this method I am about to tell you about is STILL an awesome precursor to that and will only make your meat of choice that much yummier.

Here’s the secret: A 30 minute salt brine.

Yeah. Look it up. I am not making this up. It’s out there.

( I know, salt is the new poison…however, I am betting that the salt content ultimately is less and definitely not more than the salt you would automatically get in a pre-prepared chicken from the grocery store.You are the one adding the salt, so you have full control of amounts. For all of you salt enthusiasts, this is for you. For those on a strict no salt diet, I am truly sorry.)

Take your thawed meat: chicken thighs, pork loin, skirt steak, whatever: place in a bowl that is deep enough so that when you fill it with water, the meat is fully immersed. Dump in roughly (I am not a measurer) 2 teaspoons of your salt of choice ( I use sea salt), then fill with water, stir, and then place your meat in it and let it sit, covered, in the fridge, for a minimum of 30 minutes (note: you don’t have to do it in that order, I often have the meat in first, then I sprinkle the salt all over and then add water then gently move the meat around so the salty water fills every nook and cranny). For chicken, especially drum sticks, 30 minutes is plenty.( You can prep your other dishes while you wait. Heck, you can be distracted by your toddler pooping on the floor and by the time you’ve cleaned that mess up, the chicken is ready.) If it’s something like a pork loin, or a thick roast of some sort, you can leave it for several hours or overnight. But you’d be amazed how just 30 minutes can be enough in a pinch.

Then when you are ready to get cookin’, pour out that water, dab your meat dry with paper towel and then season how you would normally season it. Cook it. Gaw, it will change your life.

Oh, wait! If you are going to slow cook that bad boy, don’t pour out that water, use it in the crock pot. When you’ve finished cooking that meat in the crock pot, don’t pour out the cooking juice, use it to cook rice or other grains in it – too f*&in’ good.

That’s it, my epiphany. Since I started prepping my meat that way, my hubby has only had good things to say…as well as my toddler and baby who gobble it all up.

Cheers. Happy cooking/creating.

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Tee hee , we gobbled it up so fast I had no time to take a picture of it just after it was cooked. Here are the cold left overs.

In addition:

I just discovered you can salt brine brussel sprouts. Oh yes, I did. My kid chose brussel sprouts as we meandered through the produce section of the grocery store. She thought they were cute because they looked like mini cabbages. I knew this was do or die…I had to make it tasty so that she’d want them again and again. So, same idea, salt brined those puppies, then cooked em up with garlic, ginger and tamari making sure to really brown them on each side in the pan before deglazing with a bit of rice vinegar and water. Also sprinkled it with sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil for fragrance. The verdict: my kid loved them. I even got an “if I have to eat brussel sprouts, this is the way I want to eat them” from the hubs. High praise, high praise.

Long Time No Post


Let’s face it, I’m overwhelmed. I have a little too much on my plate and I need to at least acknowledge that fact if not change it.

The good news is that the plate is loaded with mostly creative ventures. The sucky news is that I have more ideas than time. If only I could leave the day job to do art full-time. But if my Farmer’s Market sales are any indication of my success, I’d better stick with the day job! Same ol’ artist’s sob story; can’t make a living from my art.

Only, I don’t believe that. I believe that one day I will find my niche and I will tap into an as yet undiscovered reservoir of art patrons who get what I do, like what I do and want to pay for it too! Yes, that got rather rhymy.

I’ve been plugging away at the Farmer’s Market, making myself visible, going through the chore of set-up and take down, for those few moments of joy when a person has the courage to actually walk into my tent and really look at what I do. When they laugh and enjoy any of my paintings or drawings, I feel immense satisfaction. I feel even more satisfaction when they like it enough to want to take something home, even if it’s just a little art magnet or card. Pieces of my expression out in the universe!

I’m trying to put out of my mind the other stuff, the business stuff like paperwork: applications for fairs and their fees, logistics of set-up and schedule, even casting my mind forward to tax time – YIKES! Panicking over cost vs income. I seem to tick something off the list and then add another two.

I’m actually losing sleep over this stuff. I never lose sleep, I love sleep. I’d chose sleep over breakfast,  I’d EAT sleep for breakfast.

Just get through the season…i.e. the Christmas selling season, and then I will take stock. What works, what doesn’t. What I can and love to do and what I can do without.

I leave you with some drawings I’ve been working on. I’m considering having them printed as Christmas cards. I’m enjoying drawing tremendously and am wondering why I’ve been away from it for so long. I hope you enjoy!

 

From the Lavender Laboratory


What to do with 8 oz of Lavender oil and 2 cups of lavender buds?

I don’t know. I haven’t come close to using all that, but I can show you what I did do to use about 16 drops of that 8 ozs.

Important: Before beginning experiments, decant lavender oil into a dropper bottle; this will make life a lot easier.

Lavender Laboratory Experiment #1 : Lavender Relaxation & Refresher Spray

  • Fill clean, dark-coloured, spray bottle with filtered water (can be distilled but not necessary)
  • add 4-8 drops lavender oil
  • That’s it. What? You expected more? If this were rocket science, I would not be doing this my friend.

Shake and spritz liberally. But not too liberally if you need to get things done because it might put you to sleep.

Lavender Laboratory Experiment #2: Foot Scrub

What you need:

  • Clean container with screw top lid
  • sugar (any kind; the grain and texture is up to you. I used pure cane sugar)
  • olive oil
  • Approx. 8 drops lavender oil
  • pinch of lavender buds

My jar was a small face-cream-sized jar, so I used a 1/4 cup sugar and filled the rest with olive oil and mixed it. You can use another oil like almond or grape  for example, but a thick oil is nice for something as gnarly, dry and cracked as your feet very moisturizing for your deserving tootsies.

Note that lavender buds are optional…they can look a little bit like mouse turds on the floor of your tub after a good foot scrubbing…so if you’re not easily spooked (meaning you don’t have a tendency to jump into the air landing on the most elevated surface available while screaming “mouse! mouse!”), it’s easy enough to wash down the drain and adds a nice touch to the scrub, otherwise just leave it out.

Lavender Laboratory Experiment #3: Lavender Salt

  • Any amount kosher salt  (in this case about 3 tablespoons)
  • An appropriate amount of lavender as to not over or underwhelm the salt (in this case, a pinch)
  • Combine.

Note: If you have a sea salt mill, combine coarse sea salt and lavender buds in the mill for a more fragrant salt.

Aye, aye captain, but what to do with lavender salt?

It’s amazing combined with lemon and butter(or olive oil) as a rub for chicken destined for the grill…or so I’ve been told and plan on trying.

Or perhaps on buttered popcorn…yum!

Here’s what I did do:

Pan fried asparagus with butter and lavender salt.

Need I say more?

…okay, just a little more:

As you can see, my experiments are none too scientific as I didn’t provide any measurements ( okay, I did mention a ‘quarter cup’ once and ‘a pinch’ more than that…but how big are your fingers compared to mine? See what I mean?),which is to say, experiment for yourself and see because how am I supposed to know how much scent or flavour you like? Have fun and let me know how your experiments turn out. Got any amazing lavender recipes or home-made cosmetic ideas? Please share!

S