Saturday, March 30, 2013

Natural Easter Egg Dye

We've been cutting back on processed meats and nitrates, trying to keep the meat we do eat organic, and incorporating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables in our diets every day. We try to limit potentially carcinogenic food dyes found in so many processed foods including mac and cheese but don't let me kid you. Our eating habits are far from perfect. Ice cream for breakfast, anyone?

In a continuing effort to do more good than harm, I thought we'd jump on the bandwagon by way of natural Easter egg dyes this year.
Nice, right? 

I have to confess I bought a back-up package of PAAS because I wasn't sure how the troops were going to react to the idea soaking for hours only to end up with muddier, less vibrant hues. I shouldn't have worried. They had so much fun mixing up their potions and checking up on their eggs over the course of the day, they almost forgot all about the fizzy Paas tablets. Almost.

As for hard boiling eggs, there are all sorts of tips and tricks out there for avoiding the dreaded green ring around the yolk, making the eggs easier to peel, etc. The way I see it, if anyone knows how to properly hard boil an egg, it's Martha. So here's a recap of her drill.

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs
courtesy of Martha Stewart

1 dozen eggs
Large stock pot

Allow the eggs to come to (or close to) room temperature. Place them in a heavy bottomed, large stock pot. Cover the eggs with an inch or 2 of cold water. Heat to a boil slowly, over medium heat. Once the water boils, remove the pot from heat, cover, and let sit for 12 minutes.

After 12 minutes, rinse the eggs under cold water in a colander for several minutes until cool.

Now your ready to start mixing your dyes!
Natural Egg Dye (Blue)

1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Combine the water, vinegar, and blueberries in a medium bowl. Use a masher, muddler, or wooden spoon to mash the berries. Let sit for 15-20 minutes, then strain out the berries through a fine sieve, reserving the liquid dye.

How long you soak your eggs will depend on the vibrancy of your berries and the color you want to achieve. We soaked our blue eggs for nearly 5 hours to get the color you see in the photos. 
 Natural Egg Dye (Yellow)

1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp ground tumeric

Combine the water, vinegar, and tumeric. Stir well.
 Natural Egg Dye (Orange)

1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp ground paprika

Combine the water, vinegar, and paprika. Stir well. 
With these dyes like many others, the longer you soak, the darker your eggs will get. We soaked our yellow egg in the tumeric dye for about 2 hours to achieve the lovely golden hue you see here. The blueberry and paprika dyes took longer - about 4-5 hours each. You can always stick them in the fridge to soak if they're taking a while and check up on them periodically until you like what you see.

Overall, the natural food dyes were a roaring success. The kids didn't mind the slightly duller colors (compared to the electrically bright PAAS) and really enjoyed mixing and smelling the dyes...especially the blueberry. Personally, I think these are much prettier than our neon eggs of years past. Next year we're prepared to go all out, nixing the tablets, and expanding our color palette with beets, onions, and green tea powder. Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Homemade Artisan Bread

Some women fantasize about Italian leather and diamond jewelry. Not me. I fantasize about bread. Lopsided crackling loaves of mouth-scathingly crusty on the outside, chewy, almost gummy on the inside bread really get me.
Looly is as fanatical about her bread as me. Bean is hardly one to refuse a warm slice with butter and lately, Roo's been coming around to embrace the crumb too. This is huge for those of you who aren't familiar with his oral textural struggles, and I'm all for keeping the trend moving forward.

But good bread, really, truly good bread, is hard to come by. Say nothing of that nonsense they pawn off as "Italian bread" or "baguette" at the grocery store. Lucky for us we have 2 honest to goodness bread bakeries within walking distance of home. But, they can never make the nut-free promises we need to keep Roo safe. Hence my excitement over the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by carbohydrate dream team Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

I admit, I was a skeptic. It's not that I didn't believe I couldn't whip something up in 5 minutes as promised by the book's title. It's that I didn't believe I'd really want to eat the resulting loaf. I thought it would be disappointing, not crusty enough, dry in the middle. How very wrong I was.
The master recipe upon which all others in the book are based, known simply as "boule" in our house, has become a near daily honored guest at our dinner table. The 5-minute method does not take rising and resting time into account. It also requires a few items you probably don't have on hand yet but that can be acquired easily thanks to my friend, Once you have everything you need, the process is really simple and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Here's the equipment you'll need:

Storage bucket or other food safe container with a loose fitting lid (5-quart or larger)
baking stone or pizza stone (I use this one)
pizza peel (I use this one and it works well for bread and pizza)
Dough whisk (totally optional, but handy)
granulated yeast - pretty much any dry yeast will do, instant or otherwise. I'm currently using Fleischmann's Instant Dry Yeast

Now you're ready to get to work.

Homemade Boule (free-form Artisan Bread)
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Recipe makes four 1-pound loaves

3 cups lukewarm water (not hot!)
1 & 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 & 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
6 & 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (do not sift)
cornmeal to sprinkle on the pizza peel to allow easy dough transfer

1. Pour the lukewarm water into a 5-quart or larger bucket. Add the yeast and salt to the water. Stir to combine but don't worry about dissolving every last granule.

2. Add all of the flour. Mix with a dough whisk, wooden spoon, or your hands until the flour is incorporated. If you're using your hands, get them wet first to prevent the dough from sticking to your everywhere. There is no need to knead the dough.

Set the bucket aside, cover loosely (no tight lids!), and let it rise until it flattens on top and/or begins to collapse, about 2-3 hours depending on your room temperature and the temperature of the water you started with.
At this point you can put the bucket of dough in the fridge for later baking. It will keep in the refrigerator for a solid week at least, and you can cut a hunk off to bake at any time. If you're hungry for bread like me, get ready to bake!

Sprinkle a pizza peel with cornmeal. Don't be stingy. More cornmeal helps the dough slide easily off the peel and onto the baking stone.

Sprinkle the top of your dough with a little flour. Don't worry, it won't affect the bread itself but will help prevent sticking as you're trying to cut off a hunk. Grab some dough in your hand and pull it up and out of the bucket. Using a serrated knife, cut off a chunk about the size of a grapefruit. This will be approximately a 1-pound loaf.

Take the hunk of dough in your hands and gently wrap and stretch the surface of the dough around itself and tuck the ends under, turning the dough as you go to make a shape somewhere between a ball and a disc with a smooth outer "skin". It should look something like this.
Place the dough on the prepared pizza peel and let it rest for about 40 minutes.

Place your baking stone in the oven and preheat for at least 20 minutes to 450 degrees. Put an empty broiler tray (or other old pan you don't care about) on any oven rack that won't get in the way of the bread rising as it bakes. You will be pouring water into the pan to create steam while the bread bakes.

After the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the surface with flour and use a serrated knife to slash a shallow pattern (about 1/4-inch deep) into the top. A tic-tac-toe pattern or scallop work well but you can get creative. It doesn't need to be perfect.
Using a quick thrusting motion, slide the dough off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. Using the hottest tap water you can muster, quickly and carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler pan and close the oven as soon as possible. This will create steam.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is deep brown. I find my oven consistently takes closer to 45 minutes to get a good crust, but fear not. The dough is wet enough that it's very difficult to dry out the center of the loaf even with longer baking time. Use the pizza peel to remove the bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Store the remaining unbaked dough in the refrigerator for a week to ten days and cut off a hunk any time the mood strikes.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Timber Ridge Resort Lake Geneva, WI

I've run my mouth a lot in the past about our less than ideal allergy experiences at various restaurants (I'm talking to you, Bahama Breeze!) but after a recent visit to Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark in Lake Geneva, WI, it's time for a big shout out. Thanks, Timber Ridge, for taking food allergies seriously and making our celebration of Bean and Roo's 5th birthday so much fun!
I'm 5!

Dealing with food allergies, there's not much worse than being far from home, starving, without an Enjoy Life Chewy Bar in the backpack, faced with the dire prospect of eating at a restaurant where the apathetic staff feigns knowledge and wishes you would just leave. We've been there time and again. Thankfully, Timber Ridge Resort is a different animal.

First and foremost, Timber Ridge Resort rooms have kitchens. Full kitchens!! Note there are no ovens, which could complicate some tasks (like baking a birthday cake for instance) but there is a full size refrigerator, stove top, microwave, coffeemaker, blender, toaster, sink, dishwasher, basic pots, pans, and dishes in each and every room. With Roo's allergies, this is a godsend for us, but having a kitchen at your disposal can only simplify the lives of anyone traveling with kids, allergies or not. 

Despite the kitchen, we ate at Smokey's Bar-B-Que House and the Hungry Moose Food Court at Timber Ridge over the course of our stay and were pleasantly surprised by the staff's accommodation of allergies at both restaurants.

Smokey's offers a binder filled with ingredient lists for every item on their menu. When I asked about food allergies, the hostess was eager to help me find the answers we needed. She didn't pretend to know whether or not there are eggs in the macaroni or if the french fries are fried in peanut oil but she knew exactly how to find out and was happy to do so. Having that peace of mind allowed us to focus on what we were really there for...water park!

Not to be misconstrued, my enthusiasm over the Timber Ridge restaurant scene has far more to do with addressing allergy concerns than gourmet meals. These are not 5-star restaurants by any stretch and that's totally okay with me. If you are in the market for something more refined, however, Timber Ridge sits on the grounds of the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, which has several restaurants of its own. A free shuttle runs every few minutes between the resorts.

We had Sunday brunch at the casual Grand Cafe at the Grand Geneva and found the staff to be just as friendly and accommodating of food allergies as they were at Timber Ridge. Our waiter wasn't troubled in the least by my slew of questions and spoke to the kitchen to find all the answers we needed. Bean and Roo even got coloring books to take home in honor of their birthday.

For special celebrations it appears you can coordinate with the resort to have festive signs, balloons, and probably ponies and princesses set up in your room upon arrival. I am a bad mother and coordinated no such thing. Thankfully the water park and an ice cream breakfast were enough for Bean and Roo, despite the many other birthday kiddos we saw celebrating in full regalia.
Happy birthday, 5-year-old!

The resort is not perfect. The water park is a bit small compared to others we've visited and I fear we're on the verge of outgrowing it but overall, it was a great way to spend a 5th birthday. Everyone we encountered on staff from the water park to the arcade to the trolley driver were pleasant and helpful. The resort is not luxurious but it is well-equipped and very family-friendly. Best of all, Mufasa and I were able to relax and enjoy the trip without having to stress over where Roo's next meal would come from.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Broccoli Mac and Cheese

On my list of priorities, making homemade macaroni and cheese falls pretty far down the list somewhere between backing up old photos and ironing the duvet cover - not a euphoria-inducing endeavor, but not quite torture either.

The KC kids don't eat much boxed macaroni and cheese to begin with, unless we're traveling and need a safe, non-refrigerated option that won't make Roo break out in hives. In that case I'm all about a little Annie's or in a pinch, good old-fashioned toxic food dye-laced Kraft . It's not ideal, I know, but faced with a road trip choice of food dye versus anaphylaxis, I opt for the dye.

Anyway, the March issue of Cooking Light has a recipe for Cheesy Penne that looked relatively innocuous (and fast!) and being that it was 4:30 PM on gymnastics night and I happened to have everything on hand, I gave it a go. You should too.
Broccoli Mac and Cheese
adapted from Cooking Light

16 ounces short pasta (any shape)
6 cups broccoli florets
2 cups milk
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp cream cheese
1&1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup shredded 4 cheese Italian blend (or similar shredded, meltable cheese)
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, for topping

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. During the last 3 minutes of cooking, throw in the broccoli. Drain the pasta and broccoli together in a colander and transfer to a large bowl.
Combine the milk and flour over medium heat in a saucepan. Whisk the mixture until it's nice and smooth, then continue to cook until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in all the remaining ingredients, except the Parmesan. Whisk until smooth.
Pour the cheese mixture over the pasta and broccoli and toss together. Distribute into individual bowls and top with freshly grated Parmesan.
Much better than the bright orange carcinogenic stuff, don't you think? In all fairness my masterpiece went over about as well as boxed mac and cheese with the KC kids. They asked me to leave the broccoli on the side next time. They didn't like it cheesy.

I, on the other hand, hate boxed macaroni and cheese with a passion, but this I can handle without a single grimace or whine. The Dijon and nutmeg do wonders to amp up the flavor a bit without overwhelming the more sensitive taste buds of preschoolers.
So, no carcinogenic food dyes were ingested, the pasta got eaten (along with sides of plain broccoli) and we made it to gymnastics on time. Really, I can't ask for more.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

French Chocolate Cake

March is a big birthday month here at Kid Cultivation and Mufasa is first in line.
Typically I'm all about inclusiveness, food allergies and all, but not when it comes to the point of exclusiveness. You follow, right? I didn't think so.

Backstory: 10 years ago I picked The Cook's Encyclopedia of Chocolate out of the bargain bin at Border's (yup, Border's, remember that relic of the past?) About 3 recipes into the book, there's this deep, dense, elegant, nearly flourless slim chocolate cake that caught my attention. That year, long before the KC kids were in existence, I made it for Mufasa's birthday, at which time he declared it his birthday cake every year from here on out unless otherwise specified. For the record he has never otherwise specified.

Then we entered this strange land of food allergies and eggs, in my baking at least, fell by the wayside. It's not fair to tell a 4-year-old he can't have any cake when everyone else is oohing and ahhing over the fudgy goodness. But, it's not fair to deprive a pre-diabetic adult man his most treasured and anticipated annual indulgence either. So, sorry Roo. This one's for Daddy.
By the way, Roo enjoyed a generously frosted dark chocolate vegan cupcake, much to the dismay of his sisters who were forced to eat the "regular" French Chocolate Cake.
French Chocolate Cake
From The Cook's Encyclopedia of Chocolate

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp brandy or triple sec
5 eggs
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
powdered sugar (for dusting)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter or cooking spray. Trace the bottom of the springform pan onto a sheet of parchment paper and cut out a circle to fit the base of the pan. Lay the parchment circle in the base of the springform pan, and grease the top of the parchment paper too for good measure. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in foil to prevent water from seeping in during cooking. It should look like this:
In a double boiler (or the microwave), melt the chocolate, butter, and sugar, stirring frequently until smooth. Cool slightly and stir in the liquor.

Put a tea kettle on the stove to boil. I'm serious. 

In a separate large bowl beat the eggs lightly for about a minute. Add the flour and beat again. Slowly stir in the melted chocolate mixture and stir until well blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Place the springform pan into a large roasting pan or other rimmed pan. Open the hot oven and place the whole ensemble on the center rack. Carefully pour boiling water from the tea kettle into the roasting pan until it comes up about 3/4-inch up the sides of the springform pan. Bake 25-35 minutes, until the edges of the cake are set but the center is still a bit soft.
Remove the springform pan from the oven. Be careful not to drip hot water everywhere. Remove the foil and cool the cake on a wire rack. Don't worry if the cake starts to sink in the center. It's supposed to be slim. Remove the side of the springform pan. Let the cake cool completely. Flip the cooled cake over onto your serving platter, so it's bottom side up. Remove the base of the springform pan and the parchment paper.
Cut 6-8 strips of parchment paper and lay them over the cake in a crisscross pattern.
Sprinkle powdered sugar over the top of the cake then remove the strips.
Happy birthday, Mufasa! I hope it was worth the wait.

Friday, March 8, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Green Smoothie

Just in time for Saint Patrick's Day, here's one of my favorite green smoothies that even Looly will drink. Just don't expect her to say she likes it.
Spinach, ginger, coconut water...I know what you're thinking because I thought exactly the same thing. There's no way my kids are going to drink this without money changing hands. But don't let the abundance of healthy stuff dissuade you. There's pineapple too - lots of sweet, tropical pineapple and don't forget the green factor, especially with St. Paddy's Day just around the bend. Never miss an opportunity.
It's so fast and so easy, you've really nothing to lose even if they turn up their noses at first, which is precisely what Looly did. So I pulled out the big guns - fancy straws. Gets them every time.
Bean was sold at first sip. Roo, as usual, said he loved it, drank an ounce and was full for hours. Looly, on the other hand, claimed it to be the most excruciating beverage experience of her life, then proceeded to drink her entire glass. And mine. This morning she asked when we could make green smoothies again. She is a 6 and a half. 13 is looking dicey from here.
St. Patrick's Day Green Smoothies
serves 2 (or 1 adult and 3 kiddos)

8 ounces coconut water (sub regular H2O if you don't have coconut water)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup frozen pineapple chunks
2 big handfuls of baby spinach (about 2 cups)
1 tbsp honey (optional)

Pour the coconut water into a blender. Add the ginger and blend until frothy. Add everything else - pineapple, spinach, and a touch of honey if you like, and blend again until smooth. Serve in tall glasses, garnish with lemon wedges and the fanciest straws you can find.

Bottoms up.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chocolate Sunbutter Rice Krispies Treats

How do you cheer up a grumpy 6-year-old whose first grade concert got rescheduled because of this:
With these!
While Looly pouted off the cancelled concert, Bean and I got to work. 
Halfway through, Roo jumped in for a little chocolate therapy. 
Chocolate Sunbutter Rice Krispies Treats

2 tbsp butter
10 ounces marshmallows
3 tbsp Sunbutter
6 cups Rice Krispies or other puffed rice cereal
8 ounces chocolate (chopped, or use chocolate chips)

Spray a 9 x 13-inch (or similar size) pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pot over low heat. Stir in the marshmallows until melted. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the Sunbutter until it's runny and well integrated with the marshmallow. Finally, stir in the cereal until coated with sticky Sunbuttery marshmallow. Turn the mixture out into the prepared pan. Using a buttered spatula or a sheet of wax paper, press the the mixture into the pan. Let cool.
Microwave the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring between heating until it's melted. Pour the chocolate over the Rice Krispie treats and spread into an even layer. Allow the chocolate to cool and set. If you're in a hurry and need to garner a smile from an unhappy child sooner rather than later, pop them in the freezer for 10 minutes to set the chocolate.
Use a sharp knife to cut into squares and serve with plenty of cold milk.
And sure enough, look who's smiling again. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Strawberry Ricotta Scones

One sweltering and blindingly sunny summer day an eternity ago, we went strawberry picking. After shortcakes, smoothies, balsamic strawberry jam with cracked pepper, and much strawberry limeade, we ended up with about 5 pounds of berries in the freezer, where they've been hanging out gathering ice crystals ever since. Obviously, it's time to use them before the next strawberry season rolls around, but any old smoothie won't do for these conserved nibble-size beauts. Hard-earned berries require something special.
A few months ago I made these egg-free Blackberry Meyer Lemon Ricotta Scones and I haven't been able to shake their legacy since. Is there a better place to nestle sweet tender summer berries in the dead of winter than in between flaky warm layers of whole wheat ricotta scones? I for one think not.
Strawberry Ricotta Scones
adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/3 cup sugar*
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 tbsp cold, unsalted butter
1 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup buttermilk

*I upped the sugar just a tad from the original recipe because well, I like sugar, but what I really mean to say is that it offsets the tartness of these particular strawberries. Let your berries be your guide and if yours are particularly sweet, feel free to reduce down to 1/4 cup of sugar.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 forks, cut the cold butter into the flour mixture until the largest bits are about the size of a small pea. Be patient. It will happen.
Chop the berries coarsely (some big hunks are good!) and add to the flour mixture. Stir to combine.
Add the ricotta and buttermilk all at once. Stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Knead the dough a few times with your hands then dump it out onto a well-floured surface. Pat the dough into a round about 2 inches high. You can add a little more flour to the top of the dough to prevent it from sticking to your hands if it's super sticky.
Use a sharp knife and a steady hand to slice the round into 8 even wedges. Carefully transfer each wedge to the prepared baking sheet.
Bake 15-18 minutes until the scones are golden brown and dry and crisp at the edges. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring the scones to a wire rack to cool completely.
If you really want to do it up, serve them alongside balsamic strawberry jam with cracked pepper or vanilla mascarpone cream. May the sweet flavor sustain you until the return of berry season!