Category Archives: Cooking

Mini Onigiri

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The last time I posted anything food-related that didn’t feature cookbooks was October of 2014 (this delicious cashew milk that promptly made me break out in hives after overdosing on it for two days — I can eat the nuts by the bucketful without any issues, so that incident was a mystery).

I give you mini onigiri — which translates to rice ball, though the literal meaning is more along the lines of “squeezed” or “clasped”. They are also known as omusubi. I felt that my diminutive snack deserved a post of its own, just because it’s so darn adorable. Standing a smidgen higher than an inch, these tiny seaweed-adorned rice morsels were a runaway hit at K’s birthday party. It’s been two days since the festivities, yet I can’t stop making them. On a slightly more practical level, they would be a fabulous school lunchbox addition. Have the kiddos in your life resumed school yet? We have three more weeks to go till K starts fourth grade, and my mind is full of fall clothes and cute lunches.

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You’d think that these would be incredibly labor intensive, but they’re super fun and fast to make. The secret weapon is this handy dandy mold:

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I can’t remember where I got it since I’ve had it forever, but I did find online the other cube-shaped mold that I don’t use as much because I prefer the classic rounded triangular shape. This one seems to come close, though I’m not sure if it’s as awesome as mine. As I was searching for onigiri molds, I encountered a dazzling array of options — this penguin set sort of blows me away.

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First, I cooked some rice; for the ones in the photos, I blended in a mixture of sesame seeds and nori flakes after the rice was done, but I normally just add a little salt. Then I snipped several strips of nori or seaweed (roughly 3/4″ x 2″). Next, I scooped a few tablespoons of rice into the mold and packed the rice in. Push the mold out of the clear casing, slap on a strip of nori and voila! Yum, yum, yum. So far, I haven’t come across a soul who hasn’t delighted in these bite-sized onigiri — highly recommended!

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Cookbooks

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These Japanese candies are called kompeito, little constellations of pure sugar. They taste like rock candy with perhaps a slight flowery undertone. I have quite a lot left over from the Little K launch party (they didn’t fit in the piñata), and I’m not sure what to do with them, but they take me back to my childhood. My mom didn’t buy very many sweet treats when I was a kid. She made almost everything from scratch, and the ones I requested over and over were sliced, candied sweet potatoes fried to a crisp called karinto, and oshiruko, which is essentially a sugary azuki bean soup with small floating mochi balls. Because we ate mostly whole, unprocessed foods and dessert wasn’t a regular offering, I savored the homemade confections my mom would energetically whip up on special occasions.

I’ve noticed that when my schedule gets frenetic, the first thing that goes is nutrition. Overwhelmed by one thing or another, I’ll quickly assent to eating out or will resort to serving my family Mac n Cheese (the blue box which is not the kind found in the “Natural Foods” section that’s supposedly healthier). On some occasions, I forget to eat altogether. Worse, I’ll toss together a salad but because I’m tired and want to avoid the food-related skirmishes, I’ll douse K’s plate with cheese and let her dip everything in ketchup.

I want to return to my roots of whole, unprocessed eating. Every June, I buy a stack of reading materials as a birthday present to myself and this year, I focused on books about food. I’m really excited about these four:

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Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal

By Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story (blog and book). It looks like a considered, wholesome meal plan for the entire family designed to encourage kids to eat better.

Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World

By Sarah Kolman. Well, the title says it all, doesn’t it? The author is a nurse and takes a food-centric approach to health, which I absolutely advocate.

Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen

By Heidi Swanson. With her award-winning blog 101 Cookbooks, Heidi Swanson is the grand dame of food blogging, and I’ve listened to and read rave reviews about her cookbooks for years. I saw the paperback version at the bookstore and immediately snagged it.

The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook: Over 300 Delicious Whole Foods Recipes, Including Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, and Egg-Free Dishes
The title of the book does beg the question, “What exactly can you eat?” I’ve already almost completely eliminated dairy from my diet, and I’ve seen some remarkable improvements with my skin and premenstrual bloating. Inspired by this, I’ve been toying with the idea of going gluten-free. There’s a lot of material out there about how thyroid conditions are exacerbated by gluten, and though my carb-loving body is rebelling at the thought, it might be worth an experiment. Also, one of my very good friends who is also a magician in the kitchen told me that the recipes are superb, and her endorsement is enough for me.

Do you have cookbooks to recommend? I love me a good cookbook!

Cashew Milk

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As I grow older, I’ve noticed that I have a harder time digesting cow’s milk and end up with a bunch of weird reactions. In particular, my monthly PMS breakouts are worse and painfully cystic when I’ve consumed too many dairy products, so I’ve been trying to find tasty alternatives. I love soy and almond milk, but I’ve been reading about some scary additives (like carrageenan) and though I usually pshaw those types of hyped up warnings, I figure I should stay on the safe side.

A few weeks ago, when I was chatting with a friend, I noticed her swigging a creamy liquid that she kept shaking up. It turned out to be cashew milk, and I was intrigued. Cashews are my favorite nuts! Why didn’t I think of cashew milk before? Alas, the stuff is not readily available at even my uber granola, natural foods market.

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Did you know that it’s super easy to make cashew milk? This was a happy discovery as I had cashews and water on hand, and that’s all I needed! Using my trusty Vitamix (though any blender will do since cashews are softer than your average nut), I just blended one cup of cashews with 3 cups of water for about 40 seconds. Some recipes suggest soaking the raw nuts overnight, but I didn’t bother.

In fact, I didn’t even use raw cashews. I got the “less salty” kind from Trader Joe’s and the result was a thick, milky beverage that tastes like liquid cashew butter. Adding a sweetener would perhaps be advisable, but I actually like the slightly salty undertones. Action shot:

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I’m starting to feel like a televangelist for Trader Joe’s, but I seem to constantly have memorable experiences there. About a week ago, I was having a bummer of a day as it happens sometimes. I’d just placed all my grocery bags in my trunk sporting an Eeyore-esque expression, and was about to go return the cart, when a young man happened to be approaching from my right. He smiled pleasantly and said, “Here, let me take that for you,” and rolled my cart away to the designated area. He wasn’t an employee, and I was looking pretty unsexy (yoga pants, frizzy bun, no make-up, grumpy, cystic acne) so I wasn’t having a cougar moment or anything — he was just being nice. That tiny act of kindness completely lifted my bad mood, and I drove home hoping that K will grow up to be a considerate young adult like that.

But I was talking about cashew milk. It’s taking me a bit to get used to, but I really like it in my coffee as you can see below. I also made a cashew hot cocoa and that was definitely yum. And I bet cashew milk chai using my go-to recipe would be divine…it’s got potential, this one. Lots of potential.

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Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! I am extremely lazy at heart, and when several friends told me about the easiest bread to make, I was in. The no knead bread has been around for a while, and I’ve seen various versions of Jim Lahey’s original recipe around the web and I suppose in a vague sort of way, I’d been curious about this wonder bread. My first attempt, sadly, was a bust. Though the crust was amazing, the glutinous, uncooked middle was disgusting, and the bottom burnt to a crisp.

I’m not easily put off by failure and have since tweaked the recipe to get the best result from my decrepit oven. It literally requires no kneading, and yesterday I stirred up the dough in the morning, and by dinnertime, I had a bubbled mass that easily rolled into this loveliness ready for some baking:

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Which came out like this:

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It’s so delicious that it makes me salivate just looking at the photo. Look at that beautifully crackled artisanal beauty! K has been cramming her mouth with the stuff, generously slathered with butter. Nothing beats freshly baked bread with butter.

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In order to have an easy reference for myself, I’ve written down my own version of the no knead bread. Perhaps you’d like to give it a try too?

No Knead Bread adapted from the Sullivan St. Bakery

3 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water (room temperature)

1. In a large glass bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

2. Add water and mix just enough to combine. Don’t mix too exuberantly, and scrape off dough from sides of bowl to create a gloppy, singular mass.

3. Cover with plastic wrap (I ran out of plastic wrap so I used a slightly damp towel instead – worked great). Let sit at room temperature for 10 to 18 hours. I’ve tried 1o hours and 20 hours and both times the bread came out wonderfully.

4. When you’re ready to bake the dough, check to make sure it’s full of bubbles. These bubbles will give the loaf those airy holes once baked. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on a surface and scrape out the dough onto the floured surface. I like to also sprinkle a thin layer of flour on top.

5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. My oven runs hot, and I had tried it at the recommended 500 degrees first and the loaf was disastrous. You may have to play around with different temperatures. Place your dutch oven with lid in the preheating oven for about 30 minutes.

6. Gently fold the dough once or twice — remember not to knead — and shape into a ball with seam side down. This is optional, but I like to put the dough on parchment paper.

7. Place parchment paper with dough into preheated dutch oven. I’m a little OCD so I trim the parchment paper to the edge of the dutch oven opening. Put the lid on.

8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes with lid on. Remove lid and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until crust is an achingly beautiful golden hue.

9. Slide loaf onto a cooling rack and wait a few minutes if you can to cut into it. We haven’t been able to wait.

That’s it! I’ve already baked four loaves and plan on baking another one tomorrow. It’s gluten heaven, I tell you.

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The winner of the Kyuuto book is Max, congrats!

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Full of emotion, M told me this week:

“Man, it’s such an honor to be K’s father…guess what she said the other day? ‘Daddy, you know what I love about you? You really listen to me.’

They’re a good pair, those two.

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Happy weekend, friends!

Fall weather is here
Crisp air and rain aplenty
The crunch of apples

 

 

10 Minute Jam

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No joke, this jam took less than 10 minutes to make. I do have to mention that a microwave played a major role, and I’m usually not one to rally behind nuked foods. But when a recipe claims to take a mere ten minutes, well, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.

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When it first came out of the microwave, the mixture had ballooned considerably and then slowly deflated, leaving a soupy mixture. As it cooled, the jam thickened, and I have to say, it’s scrumptious. K, of course, thought it was a fabulous science/cooking experiment, which I guess it kind of is, and she loves the jam.

I’m always happy to try out new things, but it does make me a little uncomfortable to consume microwaved food. Every time I heat up leftovers, I feel a pang of guilt. But oh, the convenience! At any rate, this jam was definitely worth the try, and now that my curiosity is sated, I’m back to healthy cooking!

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Here’s a behind the scenes look-see of K styling the jam and taking test shots with her little camera, setting it all up for me to shoot. I think she might have a real future in this line of business…

 

No-Bake Energy Blasts

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It’s hard to believe, but I’ve continued with my daily green juice for nearly a year now. It helps jumpstart my day, but I must ‘fess up to still being hopelessly addicted to my beloved coffee. Maybe it’s the coffee voiding the green juice, but by mid-afternoon I usually need an energy boost.

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I made these no-bake energy blasts (named by one of K’s friends who happened to be over while I was typing this up) and they live up to their name. I slightly modified this recipe by replacing the honey with brown rice syrup (left over from the healthier rice crispy treats), and adding a little dried bing cherries and slivered almonds. I also bought whole flax seeds instead of ground by mistake, but it wasn’t an issue at all.

These are delicious! And kid-approved! A seven-year-old and eight-year-old both extolled the flavor, and this is after I told them that these are on the healthy side as far as snacks go. I popped one in my mouth and savored the notes of poppy seed (from the chia seeds?) mixed in with the sweet/tart zing of the dried fruit and mellow nuttiness of the pistachios and almonds. Increasingly I’m preferring brown rice syrup as a sweetener because it’s not as cloying.

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My food processor didn’t like blending the dates, syrup, chia seeds and flax seeds though. An ear-splitting grating noise exploded the first couple of seconds, then it slowly and painstakingly churned the mixture into a semi-smooth mush.

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That was the only hiccup, however, and these are so easy to make — my favorite kind of recipe. I’m piling a bunch in containers to keep in the fridge (they’re supposed to last a couple of weeks chilled). Now I’m ready for the afternoon slump!

 

Pancakes: Banana Oat vs. Chocolate Chip

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K made an unusual pronouncement on Sunday that threw me for a loop. “I want something different for breakfast, Mommy,” she said. For the past five years, I’ve been serving up buckwheat pancakes every Sunday. It’s like clockwork: wake up, brush my teeth, make pancakes.

Turns out that my routine girl didn’t want to deviate too much from the ritual. She just wanted different pancakes, so we thought it might be fun to each make our own version. K created a chocolate chip concoction and I investigated our cupboards and pantry for ingredients that might work. I found a bag of oat flour and some super ripe bananas, and hazily remembered pinning a banana pancake recipe, but my gargantuan board proved to be too much work to sift through and the search function wasn’t too helpful, so I googled “Banana Oat Pancakes” instead (must address the Pinterest issue). Voila! I had all the ingredients, and though I forgot to include the cinnamon and nutmeg, these were delectable!

My pancakes were fluffy and virtually sugar-free:

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Her pancakes were a sweet tooth’s dream and more like crepes:

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Guess which one she preferred?

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“Here, Mommy, you’ve gotta try these. My recipe is awesome.”

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And you know what? She was right. She made the batter entirely by herself, so I have no idea what she put in there, but they’re soft and airy and marvelous.

Of course, I was partial to my own, much healthier version. Okay, I did drizzle a teensy bit of extra maple syrup on my tower of (mini!) oat pancakes, but these are fairly guilt-free as far as pancakes go:

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Oh! I completely forgot that today is April Fool’s!! May your day be filled with gentle pranks that make you chuckle.

 

 

Avocado Chocolate Cookies

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I keep a loose sort of blog schedule — every Friday, I list out potential post ideas for the following week and most of the time, I don’t follow the schedule at all because I’m always way too unrealistic and wait to create my post the day before. I’m pretty much a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal. On rare occasions, I will list the same topic over and over, carrying it through several weeks without making it happen even though it’s completely doable. These avocado chocolate cookies are an example of that.

I’ve been wanting to make these cookies for months. I love avocados. I love cookies. I especially love healthier options for sweets. I have all the ingredients for this recipe at all times (avocados, coconut sugar, egg, cocoa, chocolate chunks, baking soda and water). Seemed like a sure winner, yet I couldn’t muster the energy to make them.

Part of it was because I knew it would be yet another challenging photography project. Here’s what I mean:

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I tried all sorts of things to make them look less cow-pat-esque, but what can I say?

Just as I thought, the recipe was so quick and easy, and within half an hour, I had 18 cookies cooling on my rack. Having had success with avocado chocolate frosting before, I assumed I would adore these. They’re not bad, but some tweaks are in order. I wasn’t sure how much 50grams of chocolate chips would be (I don’t have a scale) so I tossed in a 1/2 cup. Should have added more. Also, my avocados weren’t totally ripe, and this was an issue. There’s a distinct guacamole aftertaste, which, for an avocado aficionado, isn’t such a problem, but it’s definitely weird in a cookie. So super ripe avocados are necessary.

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The recipe does state that these taste better cold and after chilling overnight in the fridge, so I’ll test that out tomorrow morn. I just had my second cookie, and you know, they’re growing on me. Guac-cookies they may be and a little odd, but they’re palatable. I like that the batch I made doesn’t use any flour, and coconut sugar is supposed to be a decent sugar alternative, but out of curiosity I might try this recipe next – this one sounds promising! I’m still trying to cut back on sugar, but sometimes chocolate is mandatory, don’t you think?

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread

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For a long time, butternut squashes intimidated me. The size, the shape, the armor of seemingly impenetrable skin. Inspired by lovely Lucinda’s suggestion in one of the comments, however, I tentatively bought a medium-sized butternut, hacked it in quarters, scooped out the seeds, sprinkled salt and pepper, and stuck it in the oven for about an hour. I admit I was a little spent after cutting the thing. It’s time to get our knives sharpened, it seems.

Fifty-some minutes later, gourd-shaped hulls filled with golden, steaming, sumptuously sweetened, anti-inflammatory pulp emerged (did you know that winter squashes have all sorts of health benefits?).

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My aim was to make soup, and I did. Tossed in with vegetable stock, an array of hearty cruciferous and root veggies and white beans, the pureed butternut squash soup was delicious. I had a lot left over that I didn’t use in the soup, though, and wasn’t sure what to do with gobs of roasted butternut.

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Enter Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread – an unwieldy dish to say, but oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth-good when consumed. I paced myself and had only one small slice, but this loaf disappeared in a matter of minutes. To reduce the sugar high, I skipped the glaze, and I for one felt no loss. It’s one of those comforting sweet baked goods in the banana and pumpkin bread family, but even better. I think it’s the browned butter that makes the difference, adding depth to the taste.

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I’ve had requests to make the loaf again, and now that I’ve conquered my winter squash fears, I’m ready. Bring it, butternut.

Healthier Rice Crispy Treats

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On Saturday, we had a mini early birthday celebration for one of our sweet little friends. She is turning five, and treats were in order, but she’s lactose-intolerant so I searched for some dessert options that wouldn’t involve any dairy. I could have gone for vegan cupcakes, but how could I pass up a chance to make healthier rice crispy treats? And how cute are they stacked high with candles on top? I love that she’s trying to blow out the candles from as far away as possible.

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I used this recipe, and it came together in a jiffy. It requires only rice crispy cereal, brown rice syrup, cashew butter and maple syrup. I already had the syrups, so all I needed were the cereal and cashew butter. I bought this brand of “veganic sprouted brown rice crisps”, and the treats came out a million times better than expected.

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They got a seal of approval from the kiddos, and just like the recipe states, the flavor has a caramel undertone. The cashew butter lends a milder nutty flavor, and I was pleased that they’re less sweet than your average rice crispy treat, but still very satisfying as a dessert.

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K was initially disappointed that no marshmallows were used, but she loves them so much that she’s been begging to eat one at every opportunity. Here, she’s enjoying one during our impromptu picnic in the backyard when there was a brief window of sunniness on Sunday (the sky ballooned with ominous-looking storm clouds shortly after).

Some words of caution: unless stored in an airtight container, these get gushy. I left them in the muffin tin with the plastic lid that it comes with, but it’s not completely airtight. I took a little bite this morning, and they’re not so yummy anymore….still, this recipe’s a keeper and I’ll be making this again for sure!

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